STAR-BULLETIN / JULY 1998
An 8-year-old Jordy Serwin, middle, eats shave ice with Dr. Randal Wada, who did one of the first cord blood transplants at UCLA Medical Center on him. Also pictured is Jordy's brother Jake.
Cord blood from Hawaii saves lives worldwide
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Call it piko power.
Stems cells from the umbilical cords of 29 Hawaii mothers have saved lives on the mainland and as far away as Europe.
Umbilical cords, which connect a baby's navel to the womb, are often discarded after birth, but doctors are encouraging more women to donate their cords as a possible source of stems cells to fight leukemia, lymphoma and other potentially fatal disorders.
"This really is a no-brainer," said Louise Fujisue, describing a conclusion shared with her husband, Kyle. They signed up to be donors as soon as their first child is born in late August.
"It's a source of great satisfaction to all of us," said Dr. Randal Wada, a bone marrow transplant surgeon who founded and directs the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank.
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Twenty-nine babies born in Hawaii the past 10 years became lifesavers for people in France, Spain, Italy and the mainland.
Umbilical cords offer lifelines
Instead of throwing away their baby's umbilical cord after birth, parents are urged to donate the cord blood to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank for possible use to treat patients. For more information or to sign up as a donor, call 983-BANK (2265) or visit www.HCBB.org.
Stem cells donated from their umbilical cords to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank matched patients needing transplants for a blood disorder. They ranged from age 1 to 55.
"It's a source of great satisfaction to all of us," said Dr. Randal Wada, a molecular biologist and bone marrow transplant surgeon who founded and directs the Cord Blood Bank. "It has been unfolding the way we thought it would."
But he is still waiting for a Hawaii cord blood match.
"There are patients, just not a lot of them," he said. "I still think it's going to happen. It would really be sweet."
Umbilical cords usually are discarded, but they have the same life-giving stem cells as bone marrow to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other potentially fatal blood disorders.
Donating cord blood "turns trash into treasure," says the Cord Blood Bank.
Louise Fujisue, 44, and her husband, Kyle, have signed up as cord blood donors as soon as their first baby is born, a daughter expected Aug. 22. Her husband's big concern was whether the donation would harm her or the baby, she said.
"When he read through the literature and got an explanation at the (recent) Baby Expo, he was quite satisfied and thought this really is a no-brainer. ... It would be a great way to contribute."
Fujisue works for the University of Hawaii School of Medicine in a collaborative clinical research program with Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
She said she knew of Wada's cord blood work, "but this pregnancy is quite a miracle. It's one of those things I've been waiting for a long time. I never thought I'd get a chance to contribute to the Cord Blood Bank."
Wada said the large amount of paperwork that has been required for donors to register has been reduced to a brief form that can be downloaded from the bank's Web site.
"All they need to do is fill out the brief form, and if the unit is successfully banked, we will contact them for the rest of the information," he said.
Only one out of nine or 10 times is a unit (containing the blood of one umbilical cord) successfully banked, Wada said.
"That means donors are filling out all the paperwork and, more than not, the unit is not banked."
The number and viability of cord blood cells, possible contamination and other factors can affect whether the unit can be used, he said.
"We're working on ways to improve that, seeing whether we can be more efficient in the system."
The Blood Bank of Hawaii transports the umbilical cord units to the Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle. There they are processed and stored and entered into the National Marrow Donor Program's cord blood database for any patient needing a match.
Lynette Matsumoto coordinates the Cord Blood Bank, and Lisa Wong-Yamamoto, a Kapiolani labor and delivery nurse, is nurse educator.
More than a hundred doctors and nurses are participating in the program at Kapiolani, Kaiser, Queen's, Castle and Tripler medical centers.
At the Baby Expo, more than 100 potential donors signed up, and it is hoped the shorter screening form will boost donations in the coming months, Matsumoto said.
As of March, she said, the Cord Blood Bank had screened more than 4,000 donors, collected more than 2,000 cord blood units, banked more than 600 and had 29 matches out of the 600.
"For me, every time we have a match, I get chicken skin - we saved another life," Matsumoto said.
"The coolest thing about her job," Wada said, is she has to contact the donor family when there is a match to ask about the baby's health. "At that point she's not allowed to tell them when or where or how, but say we're calling because a potential unit will be used in transplantation.
"You see what the return on investment this unknown mother had because she didn't just throw this stuff away," he said.
"It's such a joy to hear the mommy's voice," Matsumoto said. "The last two I did were in France and Spain. The moms were so excited, I had tears in my eyes."