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.”