If you see a 6-foot woman in scrubs and neon green sneakers hoofing it through OU Children's parking lot, best move aside.
Linda Dixon is on her way to a delivery room.
Once the baby is born, Dixon collects blood from the umbilical cord and heads back over to Oklahoma Blood Institute's public umbilical cord blood center.
She weighs the blood and takes one extra step before sending it to the lab.
“I always pray over my blood,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy, but I'm always like, ‘Please God, let this be enough stem cells.' I just want it to be enough stem cells that it will save someone's life and it makes a difference.”
Dixon is the cord blood manager at the Oklahoma Blood Institute's public umbilical cord blood center, which celebrated its grand opening Tuesday.
The cord blood bank is one of 24 cord blood centers worldwide, according to Oklahoma Blood Institute.
Oklahoma Blood Institute's cord blood bank is awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before the donations that it receives can be used to treat patients.
They're currently in the process of testing their procedures to ensure they're following the protocols that would lead to FDA approval.
The donations they receive, for now, are used for testing purposes. OU Medical Center is currently the only birthing hospital participating, but the institute anticipates more hospitals will join them.
It's unknown how much it will cost to run the cord blood bank each month, said Charles Mooney, the vice president of quality management at Oklahoma Blood Institute.
The center is expensive to run because of the amount of time, effort and equipment it takes to separate the stem cells from the cord blood, along with the cost of keeping stem cells frozen — kept cold by liquid nitrogen.
The center opened through the use of private foundations and some state dollars, he said.
Hospitals will pay an estimated $20,000 for each stem cell donation they buy from the center, he said. Adults in need of a stem cell patient typically need two stem cell donations, and children need at least one, he said.
Meeting a pricey need
Before its opening, Oklahoma did not have a public cord blood center. Rather, the umbilical cord blood was commonly thrown away after births — unless a family had the thousands of dollars it can take to store the cord blood at a private cord blood center.
Dixon, a labor and delivery nurse for about 25 years, has seen families use private cord blood banks and is happy Oklahomans have another option.
“(Private banking) is expensive, and it costs parents a load of money up front, plus a monthly charge the rest of their lives,” Dixon said. “This is an even better way because you can donate for free, there's no monthly cost, and it can benefit anybody.”
That's one of the reasons Dr. James Smith, Oklahoma Blood Institute chief medical officer, is excited about the cord blood bank — the potential to save lives that otherwise might have been lost.
The cord blood that Dixon brings over is taken to a lab. From there, the stem cells are removed, and they're placed into small bags that are frozen in a freezer kept cool by liquid nitrogen.
The stem cells from cord blood can be used to treat people with cancers, blood disorders, congenital metabolic disorders and immunodeficiencies, according to an article published in the Journal of Perinatal Education.
But in order for patients to receive those stem cells, they generally must find a match. This process can prove difficult if the patient is a racial minority.
Smith said because of Oklahoma's large percentage of American Indians, the facility likely will gather donations from American Indian mothers, which could turn into stem cells used to treat other American Indians with leukemia and other blood disorders.
“We're hoping to be able to provide a source of cells that has been almost impossible to find, primarily for the minority groups so we would have cells that would be used to support transplants,” he said. “If they have leukemia or some other cancer, and they cannot find a match, the cancer will kill them.”