Why I didn’t do stem cell banking when I had my first child, and why I’m doing it now

When it comes to parenting, what would you do over if you could? Would it be sending your child to a different playschool, or painting their nursery a different colour, or starting solids a little sooner or later? I suspect we all have  small or big things we wish we could change if we had a do-over.

There's nothing I regret about my first parenting stint, aside from not having my baby’s umbilical cord blood banked. Cord blood and tissue banking involves collecting the blood left in your newborn's umbilical cord, as well as a small piece of the umbilical cord itself, and storing it for potential future medical use.

Cord blood contains blood stem cells which can be used to treat blood-related diseases like leukaemia. The jelly in the umbilical cord is rich in the stem cells that can form a variety of cells including cartilage, nerve, bone, muscle and others.

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At the time, the idea of tossing aside R20 000 or so seemed ridiculous, for a "promise" or result that no one could guarantee. At the time, there were also so few diseases that stem cells were treating, the majority of which I couldn't even pronounce. Plus, we had nappies, a nursery, and all the doctors' appointments to pay for, and years of parenting to financially think about. At the time, the "success stories" were too low to justify the financial input, and leukaemia and lymphomas happened to other people. Not mine.

Almost seven years later, more Googling, more research from the scientists, and more awareness of the things that happen to kids close to me, and those I read about on my friends' timelines, and my perspective and action plan is very different.

We'll be banking this time, much the same way as I have household insurance, car insurance or disability insurance. I don't know what will be, but hopefully I'm covered if something does happen. And while I have a healthy son and while I can't protect him from everything, if he was ever to have a condition that required stem cells, at least now there is a one-in-four chance that his sister’s cells will be a match.

I am fully aware of those on the other side – I was there seven years ago when we made the decision not to bank. And I know some of the valid arguments from that side: "It's very expensive". "Stem cells can't be used to treat all diseases". "Stem cells can't be used to treat all cancer". "Where are the hundreds of case studies to show that it's successful?"

From my side, here are the arguments for: 

  • When you bank with Netcells, Next Biosciences’ umbilical cord stem cell banking service, you can pay over 60 months which really does make it more affordable. Discovery Health Members also receive up to a 25% discount.
  • What if my daughter does get a disease that is treatable with stem cells?
  • What if in 10 years' time, science has advanced to such a point that stem cells can be used to treat so much more. Already scientists are investigating the use of cord blood to treat Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Type-1 Diabetes.
  • Cord blood stem cells are currently being used to treat nearly 80 blood-related disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and immune deficiency diseases.
  • If you ever need stem cells, the chance of finding a compatible donor/match through the bone marrow registry is 1 in 100 000.

I'll be writing more about stem cell banking over the next few months as I learn more, and I go through the  process with Next Biosciences. I'll also be asking you to submit your own questions about umbilical cord stem cell banking, and I'll get them answered for this platform.

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