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Who’s afraid of cord blood?

Interesting. A couple of weeks ago, we participated in the Viacord-sponsored Ultimate Baby Shower. Over the course of the evening, there were three presentations, one by an obstetrician speaking on behalf of ViaCord, one by a sonographer talking about 3D/4D ultrasound, and one by me – talking about baby gear. Each presentation took about 20 minutes. There was also a photographer displaying her work, and Alyssa Gusenoff, author of “Margarita Mamas: Mocktails for Moms to Be” was there mixing up mocktails and signing her book. The food was delicious, the raffle prizes were amazing (Radian car seat, Uppa Baby G-Lite stroller, Serena & Lily bedding set, Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, to name a few) and the setting, overlooking the lake at Wellesley College, was lovely.

As an expectant mom myself, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening – and it was free. The feedback surveys from those in attendance were glowing – the parents-to-be enjoyed the informative presentations, liked the food (loved the drinks), and all said they would recommend the event to their expectant friends.

Last week, the Globe ran a front page article, written by a pregnant reporter who had attended the event. The article raised some interesting questions about cord blood banking but didn’t talk much about the event itself. So I was surprised to see a columnist in the Boston Globe this weekend accusing Viacord of using the Ultimate Baby Shower for the purpose of fear mongering. I’m usually a fan of Beverly Beckham, and look forward to reading her insightful columns, which usually revolve around parenting and families. But I thought she made an unfair conclusion about an event that she clearly knew little about.

The Viacord presentation was compelling, not because it provoked fear, but because it offered so much hope. Stem cell research is still in its infancy. Already, there are more than 70 life-threatening illnesses that can be treated using cord blood stem cells. That number increases every year. Who knows, in 20 years, what will be on that list? Companies like Viacord certainly make money from the fees associated with collecting, processing and storing the cord blood, but they turn around and use a lot of that money for research, to identify new uses for cord blood stem cells. It’s a rapidly expanding cycle.

In my family, diabetes is a pervasive problem. My mother has Multiple Sclerosis. Both of these diseases have emerging treatments using stem cells. So if my kids’ cord blood can someday help themselves, me, my mom, or anyone else, why would I throw it away? Not everyone can afford to bank cord blood – that’s for sure. But as the list of applications for cord blood continues to grow, public cord blood banks will become a more popular option. Right now, they don’t have enough infrastructure or public awareness to grow at the same pace as the commercial cord blood banks, but it will happen – if those who can afford to do it embrace the optimism afforded by this new medical frontier.

My only fear? That someday, someone I love will be sick enough that we’ll need to use those stem cells.

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