Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Umbilical Cord Blood Can Bring New Life to Others

DEAR ABBY: I am an educator with the Cord Blood Registry, responding to the letter in your column about donors needed for the bone marrow registry.

I would like to tell you and your readers about an amazing opportunity to assist tens of thousands of people in need of stem cells that used to be available only through bone marrow transplants.

Diseases like Hodgkin's lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and leukemia can now be treated with stem cells from umbilical cord blood.

The process of collecting it is painless; however, it must be collected immediately following birth. Umbilical cords are often just discarded. It is a tragedy that expectant parents are rarely made aware of the importance of their child's umbilical cord blood. It can be banked privately for their families, or donated through the International Cord Blood Foundation for use by patients who desperately require a matching transplant.

There are also special programs to help families bank the cord blood should a family member be stricken with an illness that places him or her in serious need of a transplant.

Abby, please urge families who are concerned about saving lives with umbilical cord blood to contact the Cord Blood Registry at 1-888-267-3256 (toll-free) or www.cordblood.com to learn more about banking their cord blood. -- KATIE HEFFELFINGER, CORD BLOOD EDUCATOR, BETHLEHEM, PA.

DEAR MS. HEFFELFINGER: I'm pleased to alert readers to this relatively new therapy, which became available in the late 1980s.

I was fascinated to learn that "cord blood" is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born. Like bone marrow, it has been found to be a rich source of stem cells -- the building blocks of the blood and immune system. Cord blood may provide treatment advantages over bone marrow, especially when it comes from an immediate family member. Saving it may prove especially significant for ethnic minority patients, and those with a family history of leukemia or cancer.

If the umbilical cord blood from all the deliveries in the United States were stored, successful matches could be found without the long, time-consuming search for a bone marrow donor.

There is no cost for public donation of umbilical cord blood, but the application and testing process must be started at least two months before the delivery. Parents wishing to store their newborn's cord blood for their own potential use can do so for a fee. However, anyone with a family member who already HAS a condition for which stem cells may be a treatment option, can store cord blood at no cost through the Cord Blood Registry's Designated Transplant Program. (For information on this option, call the number listed above.)

DEAR ABBY: I thought you might be interested in the role you played in getting my young son to read. When he was in the elementary grades, I insisted that he read the newspaper every day and find something interesting to discuss with me. Well, it didn't take him very long to find your column, and he shared it with me each day. He is grown now and loves to read your column and many other things as well. Thank you, Dear Abby. -- STELLA LEHNERT, DETROIT

DEAR STELLA: Thank YOU. I have always encouraged young people to hone their reading skills. To learn that I had a part in developing your son's reading habits is gratifying.

For those young people who may have missed my advice on reading, I repeat:

If I could give young people one piece of advice, it would be read, read, read! In reading, you will open up new worlds, real and imagined. Read for information, read for pleasure. Our libraries are filled with knowledge and joy, and it's all there -- free for the taking. The person who DOES NOT read is no better off than the person who CANNOT read.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600