Long before she got pregnant, expectant mom Jennifer Widdows firmly believed in donating any biological products that she could. Blood, platelets – you name it. “The folks at the blood and platelet donation centers get very excited when I come in. I’m what they consider an ‘ideal donor’ since I have a high platelet count, relatively lower iron levels, and I haven’t been exposed to a virus that most of the population gets during childhood,” she said. “Some of my platelets go directly to sick infants and leukemia patients. It’s an enormous gift I can give, and it only takes two hours of my day.”
So when she discovered the Be The Match registry was looking for bone marrow donors, naturally, she was intrigued. When she got pregnant with her first child and started expanding her research on how she could continue to give back, she remembered that one way a person could contribute to the Be The Match registry is by donating her newborn’s umbilical cord blood. “By the time I started looking into this option, I had already missed the window of opportunity. I was too far along in my pregnancy to do what was required to donate,” she explained.
So, she chalked it up as a lesson learned.
Widdows and her husband considered privately banking their baby’s cord blood, but they decided against it since their family didn’t have any risk factors that cord blood may help. “I’ve also learned that oftentimes, people find better matches with people who are outside of their immediate family, depending on the disease. We decided that for our next child, publically donating their cord blood would be the best thing to do,” she said. “Private banking is more about the fear of what could happen versus public banking which is about giving and living in hope.”
Now almost 2, Ivan is preparing to become a big brother. Widdows is 36 weeks pregnant, and waiting until delivery to discover if she’ll have another boy in her house or welcome a little girl. Determined not to make the same mistake she did with her first child, her research about how to publically donate started early in her pregnancy. “I filled out a form on a website and met the criteria. They contacted a public cord blood bank in North Carolina, and the bank contacted me,” she explained.
And then, she got a lengthy to-do list.
Widdows showed up at her next appointment with a big stack of paperwork for him to fill out in order for her to donate. Oh – and by the way, he also had to complete online training. A tall task for any busy physician.
The bank had warned her – oftentimes, this was the toughest part of the whole process.
And – after she gets all that done, Dr. Graziano has to actually deliver her. If it’s another doctor who hasn’t completed the necessary training, Widdows won’t be able to donate.
Then, with paperwork in hand, Widdows received some welcome news that – in mere seconds – made her life easier. “He told me that TMC was preparing to launch a public donation program. I couldn’t believe it! All of these things that I was going to have to do. All of these things that my husband and my doula were going to have to do – suddenly, we didn’t have to do all that anymore. Donating this baby’s cord blood was going to be so easy,” said Widdows.
“I had done the paperwork and the training for other patients before, so I was happy to do it for Jennifer, but TMC’s program was about to start,” said Dr. Graziano. “Most expectant moms don’t even think about cord blood until they’re in labor. When we tell them that they now have the option to publically donate it, probably 80 percent are happy to participate. The fact that Jennifer thought about it, educated herself and did her research early in her pregnancy certainly says a lot about her character.”
Widdows connected with Kristen Wilt, TMC’s cord blood coordinator , who explained that TMC’s program doesn’t require expectant mothers to do anything ahead of their delivery. In fact, they can agree to participate in the program when they arrive at TMC in labor. TMC is proud to be the only hospital in Southern Arizona that’s part of the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program , administered by the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission .
So for now, that’s the plan as Widdows enters the home stretch of her second pregnancy. But she is thinking even further beyond that. “I can’t wait to teach my children about the easy ways people can make a difference for others. I believe that if we have these gifts, and just about everybody has the ability to donate something, why not help others in need?”
For more information about the program, please click here , or contact Kristen Wilt at (520) 324-6210 or Kristen.Wilt@tmcaz.com.
To learn more about the importance of cord blood donation, visit SavetheCordFoundation.org.