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

by Abigail Van Buren

Miracle of Life Can Be Shared Through Umbilical Cord Blood

DEAR ABBY: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Because of your column, lives have been saved, and many parents can hear the happy laughter of a child with a future. Because of a letter you printed more than a year ago, many families have stored their newborn's umbilical cord blood for potential use in the treatment of more than 30 different diseases. Cord-blood banking is biological life insurance.

Many expecting parents learned about the use of umbilical cord-blood stem cells only through your column, and took the article to their OB or oncologists and asked for more information. Many umbilical cord-blood transplants have been performed for victims of cancer, and many of these children are alive today.

For the thousands of families who may have missed your original column or didn't need it at the time, would you please rerun it? -- KAY AND JACK MULLINS, APPLETON, WIS.

DEAR KAY AND JACK: Here it is, with pleasure:

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 after birth. Umbilical cords are often just discarded. It's 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 to the International Cord Blood Foundation.

Abby, please urge families to contact the Cord Blood Registry at (888) 267-3256 (toll-free) or 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.

If the umbilical cord blood of all deliveries were stored, successful matches could be found without the 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.