Banking your baby's stem cells

One family's 'just in case' became a reality

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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She spins, kicks, and giggles. Like most five year olds, Harlow Page is full of energy.

"This is Harlow when she was first born. We had heard about cord blood banking and talked about it a lot and thought let's just go for it and have it just as a backup," said Jamie Page, Harlow's mom, while looking at pictures.

It turns out they did need it.  Harlow had cancer in her uterus.

"On the ultrasound they immediately saw that there was a mass in her abdomen about the size of a grapefruit," Jamie said.

After a year of chemo, the tumor was gone. Doctors wanted to keep it that way.

"So, when the doctors found out we actually had her own stem cells they were very excited," Jamie said.

"I think that her umbilical cord cells were used as a boost to her own cells when we harvested her to have adequate cells for reconstitution," explained Elaine Morgan, MD, oncologist at Lurie Children's Memorial Hospital.

Morgan does not advocate private cord stem cell banking at birth to be saved for a healthy baby's later use, because it's not clinically useful and it's expensive.

The Pages paid almost $2,000 for the initial banking fee, plus an extra $125 per year. 

Morgan says banking for a sick sibling is worthwhile. She says only one-in-four siblings are a match and sometimes finding a match can be difficult.

"We could come across a patient who's HLA type doesn't match with anything that's already in the bank," Morgan said.

Just before her fifth birthday Harlow's cancer returned. Her parents say the stem cells gave her four years to grow strong so her body could fight this.

Harlow has undergone radiation and surgery to remove the tumor. She's receiving 40 weeks of chemo.

"We still think she has a really good chance of being cured with her current therapy," Jamie said.

The Pages say banking Harlow's stem cells was easy. Right after birth the doctor collected the blood and a courier took it to the bank. There are a number of umbilical cord stem sell banking companies online.

The Pages recommend doing your research to find a reputable one. They chose a private bank, but say if you choose not to go that route consider donating in order to provide a potential match for someone in need.

Additional Information:

Baby Harlow had Rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a type of sarcoma.  Sarcoma is cancer of soft tissue (like muscle), connective tissue (such as tendon or cartilage), or bone.  Rhabdomyosarcoma usually begins in muscles that are attached to bones and that help the body move.  It is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children. There are three main types of rhabdomyosarcoma:

  • Anaplastic: This type rarely occurs in children.
  • Alveolar:  This type usually occurs during the teen years and occurs most often in the legs or arms, chest, abdomen, genital organs, or anal area.
  • Embryonal:  This type is the most common and occurs mostly in the head and neck area or in the genital or urinary organs. (Source:

UMBILICAL CORD STEM CELL BANKING: The use of umbilical cord blood stem cells has increased significantly in the past 20 years. Many doctors recommend banking for a variety of reasons.  Umbilical cord blood is used today to treat many life-threatening diseases including leukemia, certain other cancers and blood, immune and metabolic disorders.  Using your own family's cord blood can have many advantages in treatments, including fewer complications and improved medical outcomes.  Cord blood stem cells are not embryonic stem cells and are not controversial.  Banking cord blood is a safe and painless procedure that usually takes less than five minutes and happens immediately after birth.  After the umbilical cord has been cut, the remaining blood in the cord is collected.  The cord blood is then shipped to the laboratory, processed, and frozen in cryogenic storage tanks.  Any member of the family who is a suitable match may be able to use your baby's cord blood stem cells for transplant medicine.  Siblings are most likely to be compatible matches with 25 percent of these cases offering a match.  Currently, there are more than 30 FDA-regulated clinical trials researching medical uses for cord blood stem cells, including studies for brain injury, juvenile diabetes, cerebral palsy, and hearing loss. (Source:

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