Thursday, July 26, 2001

Lori and Heith Kaneshige donated daughter Rika's
cord blood to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank when
she was born Feb. 24 last year.

Donating baby’s
umbilical cord
can save lives of
cancer patients

Rich in stem cells, cord blood
is cheaper than bone marrow

By Helen Altonn

When Lori and Heith Kaneshige had their first baby last year, the decision to donate the umbilical cord blood to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank was a "no-brainer," Lori said.

"It is giving someone else an opportunity to have a second chance at life, so why not do it?"

Hawaii's public cord-blood bank was founded in 1998 by Dr. Randal Wada, who performed the first cord blood transplant at UCLA Medical Center in 1996, saving the life of an 8-year-old boy with leukemia.

Blood cells in a baby's umbilical cord can be used like bone marrow, with even richer life-giving stem cells to treat patients with cancer and other potentially fatal diseases.

"We now have seven children, 3 months to 17 years of age, that could definitely benefit from a bone marrow transplant because of aggressive malignancies," Wada said.

"But we don't have a matching family donor and unfortunately don't have matches in the registry, even in Hawaii's cord blood bank."

In the past two years, he said, nine children of mixed ethnic backgrounds died of their cancer within a year of being identified as transplant candidates because matching donors could not be found from their families or volunteer registries.

"Time is running out for the seven current patients," he pointed out.

A molecular biologist and bone marrow transplant surgeon, Wada joined the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii in the fall of 1996 and worked with the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children to establish the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank.

He said it has been a "long learning experience" to educate doctors, nurses and expectant parents about the program, but it has grown into a national model for a community-based public cord-blood banking system. Most others are associated with university medical centers or are part of large blood banks.

The Hawaii program is especially important because of the lack of matching donors for Hawaii's multiethnic population, Wada said.

Five hospitals that deliver most babies on Oahu participate in the cord blood bank: Kapiolani, the Queen's Medical Center, Wahiawa General Hospital, Kaiser Permanente's Moanalua Medical Center and Tripler Army Medical Center.

The Hawaii Cord Blood Bank collaborates with the Blood Bank of Hawaii and the Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle. Jan Clark, blood bank lab director, supervises packaging of the cord blood units and air transport to Seattle within 24 hours after they are collected. The Puget Sound Center processes, tests and preserves them.

They are listed on a public registry within 30 hours of arrival there and available for use by any transplant center for a matching patient.

A cord blood unit consists of all stem cells from one umbilical cord. The cost for a transplant patient is $15,000 per unit, which is cheaper than harvesting bone marrow for $23,000 to $30,000 per unit, Wada said.

It is estimated that 1,200 units of blood must be banked to be useful, Wada said. The Hawaii-Puget Sound partnership so far has 500. About 60 to 65 percent are from minority donors, mostly from Hawaii.

For more information

>> Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank, located at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, 1319 Punahou St., Honolulu, 96826.

>> For more information, call 983-2265.

Lori Kaneshige, Kuakini Medical Center clinical nurse specialist, said she learned of the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank in October 1999 when Wada spoke at the 50th-anniversary luncheon for her University of Hawaii Wakaba Kai sorority.

She said he "had all of us in tears" when he described why he got involved with pediatric oncology and started the cord blood bank.

He explained in a Hawaii Cord Blood Bank newsletter that he "spoke with a mother who 10 years ago lost her 7-year-old daughter to aplastic anemia. Her little girl's only sibling was not a match, and an unrelated donor match couldn't be found through the National Marrow Donor Program.

"I am determined to put an end to these types of conversations," he said.

Dr. Raydeen Busse, obstetrics/gynecology physician at Kapiolani Medical Center, said she introduces the topic of cord blood donations in a prenatal packet and again about halfway through a pregnancy.

She tells potential mothers that donating umbilical cord blood is similar to being a blood donor, with the cord blood going into a public bank.

"If your child, God forbid, should ever need transplantation and can't find a match, especially multiracial couples, a perfect match may be sitting there (in the cord blood bank) waiting for your child to use," she tells them.

Parents can bank cord blood with private cord registries for their own family use, but it is costly, and chances are slim they would ever need it, Busse said. The public bank is free, she added, "so why not have it there for whoever might need it?"

Kaneshige said she talked to her husband, an attorney, about donating their daughter's cord blood before she was born Feb. 24 last year. "But it wasn't even a discussion. We just knew it was something we would do."

Doctors take the blood sample after the birth, and it does not interfere with the delivery or the father cutting the umbilical cord, she said. It is painless and no loss since the cord is discarded anyway, she pointed out.

Wada anticipates that the Hawaii-Puget Sound program soon will soon be approved as an affiliate of the National Marrow Donor Program, which will make Hawaii cord-blood units available internationally.

He said the biggest challenge for the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank, which operates on tax-deductible donations of money and services, is to continue to raise about $100,000 needed annually to maintain it.

Expenses for the bank involve an average processing cost of about $725 per cord-blood unit, postage, printing, education and transport of blood units when it is not possible to hitchhike on Blood Bank flights. Wada is not paid, but the program has two part-time salaried nurse-coordinators, Arlynn Sakamoto and Trisha Yoshizai.

They tell a winning story of a mother-donor who looked at her newborn baby and said, "See, just by being born, you may have saved somebody else's life."

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