Your little miracle could be someone else’s cure
Before your baby is born, the umbilical cord is a lifeline. After your baby is born, that lifeline can give birth to hope for others.
When a patient with leukemia, lymphoma or other life-threatening diseases needs a transplant, cord blood may be an option. A doctor will look for a donor or a cord blood unit with a tissue type that matches the patient’s as closely as possible. Today, 15% of transplant patients receive cord blood that was generously donated to a public cord blood bank.
Ajani’s story: A life changed by cord blood
Ajani was diagnosed with leukemia at age two. His doctor gave him three months to live, unless he got an unrelated umbilical cord blood transplant.
Fortunately, a matching cord blood unit was found, thanks to another family’s generous decision to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank.
Ajani received his transplant and his mother Risa has been trying to keep up with him ever since. This is no small task, since Ajani’s motor is always running. He enjoys riding his bike, playing ball of any kind, listening to music and competing with his cousins in just about anything.
“No question, the transplant saved my son’s life,” says Risa. “I thought I appreciated him before, but after all he’s gone through, I appreciate him even more now.”
In Edo, one of the languages of Nigeria, Ajani means “he who wins the struggle.” Ajani is living up to his name in every way.
Jade, transplant recipient, beats leukemia thanks to generous cord blood donor
“Never. Ever. Givvvve up! Never. Ever. Givvvve up!” This is the cheer of smiling, bubbling, 4-year-old Jade. What is she cheering for? Courage to beat her cancer.
A fighter from day one, Jade’s journey began with unexplained episodes of limping, joint pain and fever. An otherwise healthy toddler who could run circles around her older brother, Jade’s parents, Jaytoe and Taneika, were puzzled. Multiple visits to the emergency room and they still didn’t know what was wrong.
Ultimately, the news was devastating. Little Jade had cancer—acute myeloid leukemia (AML). “We were floored. It was hard to swallow because she wasn’t even two years old yet. We were still getting to know her and watch her grow, but hearing this diagnosis almost felt like a death sentence,” says Taneika.
Eight months and five rounds of chemo later, Jade was in remission. Like any parent, Taneika was overjoyed, but she was worried that it was too good to be true. They filled their days with fun activities like visiting museums, baking cookies, painting and dancing to Jade’s favorite tunes. “Our family had a renewed sense of living life to the fullest, but I always felt like I was looking over my shoulder.”
On March 19, 2014, just a few weeks shy of celebrating Jade’s fourth birthday, her leukemia resurfaced. “It was harder to hear the news the second time. We thought we had it beat, but we didn’t,” says Taneika.
Immediately, Jade’s doctor’s explained that a marrow transplant was her best shot for a cure. “They told us that relapsed AML was more difficult to treat. They also told us the likelihood of finding an unrelated donor was very low because of how uniquely made Jade is, because of our ethnic backgrounds.” The frightened family knew it would be a tough battle, but brave Jade took the news with grace.
Finally, on July 3, after months of searching, transplant day arrived. Unable to find an adult donor, doctors located a 5 out of 6 cord blood match.
Pronounced Jade’s “re-birthday,” the special day was filled with celebration banners, cupcakes and Jade’s favorite thing in the world—music. “She proceeded to dance for an hour straight, grabbing our hands and pulling us to the dance floor one by one,” says Taneika.
Exhausted, Jade finally fell asleep as nurses hooked up an IV pole for her new, life-giving cells to drip slowly into her body. “When you hear the word ‘transplant’ you think surgery…sedation…but it was not like that at all,” says Taneika. “The whole process took less than two hours.”
Twenty-nine days after transplant, Jade was 100% donor cells. She did experience some early setbacks with graft versus host disease (GVHD) and liver damage, but Jade is currently healthy, happy and cancer free.
Taneika is at a loss for words when thinking about the gift their family received. “Thank you seems inadequate… We wish there were words beautiful or accurate enough to fully express our gratitude for this incredible gift — for saving our daughter’s life and keeping our family whole,” she says.
“With each milestone that Jade reaches, every smile that she cracks, each hug that she shares with us, we are eternally grateful to the mother who made this possible when she donated her newborn baby’s cord blood, to Be The Match for facilitating her gift, and to Jade’s medical team for their incredible support. We thank God for them all. We will certainly be reflecting on that this holiday season and hoping not only for Jade’s continued remission, health and overall rock-stardom, but also for a match and a cure for all of the parents, grandparents and children who need it.”
Cord blood can improve the odds
Jade, cord blood transplant recipient
Patients from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds often have a more challenging time finding a suitable matched donor. Adding donated cord blood from diverse communities to the registry increases the likelihood that every patient will find a life-saving match. In 2014, 29 % of cord blood transplants were for minority patients.
To support these patients, we partner with a network of public cord blood banks that collect and store cord blood units, especially from diverse racial and ethnic communities. With 209,000 umbilical cord blood units on Be The Match Registry® and access to 622,000 cord blood units through our international network of cord blood banks, many patients are able to find their life-saving match.
As you prepare for your child’s birth, consider giving the gift of hope.