Sixers legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving surprised a handful of Delaware parents at Christiana Hospital in Newark on Wednesday.
Dr. J, an ambassador for CORD:USE, a cord blood donation service, handed out autographed basketballs to new parents who chose to donate their newborn baby’s cord blood to the public bank.
The hospital recently implemented the system as an option for families to donate cord blood, rather than having the units disposed of as medical waste.
The umbilical stem cells found in cord blood are vital to treating more than 80 known diseases including leukemia, multiple myeloma and sickle cell anemia. It’s also used for research.
Promoting cord blood donation has been a philanthropic endeavor of Dr. J’s for more than a decade.
In 2005, he lobbied Congress to allow more stem cell research using umbilical cord blood and helped to clear up misconceptions about how research was conducted.
“We had a chance to get before Congress and the Senate and at that time there was a lot of controversy surrounding stem cell regeneration, and I think the stem cell bills were being introduced as one package,” explained Erving. “So I think with our team going there, we were able to convince them that it needed to be introduced separately.”
Registered nurse Kim Petrella, coordinator of the cord blood program, explained that cord blood is collected after a full-term baby is born. Once the umbilical cord is cut, the blood is collected and tested to determine whether it’s added to the bank or used for research.
“Some of the units we’re able to bank with the National Marrow Donor Program, which means the littlest citizens that are born here at Christiana Care can then have a global reach, meaning they can save a life anywhere in the world,” Petrella said. “Other units are actually donated to research. We’re doing research with cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, lots of new research that were able to use those donated stem cells.”
Christiana Care is one of only a few hospitals in the region to provide cord blood donation through the National Marrow Donor Program. It’s the only hospital in the region to partner with CORD:USE.
Since the implementation three weeks ago, the hospital has collected 70 units of cord blood. The donation process is free, and parents have to fill out forms and be approved in order to donate.
Maribeth Baxter was one of Christiana’s patients who donated cord blood to the bank after her daughter Julia was born.
“My thought is, ‘why not,’” Baxter said. “If it’s going to end up becoming medical waste, why not, and if I can help someone else, absolutely.”
In addition to the public donation bank, families can pay to have their cord blood privately collected and stored.