Cord blood transplant saves toddler’s life

Apr. 26, 2014 @ 06:39 PM

Krystal Brinson knew something was wrong with her son when he couldn’t walk at 15 months old.

After taking Maalik to the local pediatrician in Georgia and then to a hospital in Atlanta, she got a devastating diagnosis: Her son had Hurler syndrome, a rare and life-threatening disorder.
Eventually, mother and son made their way to Duke University Medical Center, where Maalik received the gift of life – a cord blood transplant.
Thanks to a new mother’s decision to donate her baby’s umbilical cord blood to a public bank, Maalik is now walking – even running – and his future looks bright.
“The transplant was his only hope,” Brinson, a 30-year-old mother of two from Valdosta, Ga., said. “He had a curved spine before, but now it’s better. It’s miraculous.”
The procedure was done in September at Duke. The family is staying at Ronald McDonald House, and still makes frequent visits to Duke for physical therapy. But Maalik is no longer confined to hospital bed.
“He’s a lot happier now,” Brinson said. “All the doctors and nurses at Duke were great. I couldn’t have asked for a better medical staff.”
Maalik still has a leaky heart valve and range of motion problems, which will require physical therapy for the rest of his life. But Brinson said his doctors expect him to live a normal lifespan.
Before his diagnosis, Brinson didn’t know much about cord blood and how valuable it can be. The blood, which remains in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth, can be used in treating many diseases.
Now, after seeing what cord blood did for her son, Brinson wants to spread the word to expectant mothers about donating.
One woman who sees the miracle of cord blood transplants nearly every day is Robin Smith Berger, a registered nurse who manages collections for Duke Medical Center-based Carolinas Cord Blood Bank.
“Cord blood transplants are a potentially life-saving treatment for more than 70 diseases, including leukemia and lymphoma,” she said. “It is used to save lives every day.”
The bank works with six North Carolina hospitals, whose staff help mothers who want to donate cord blood to the public bank for use by others, usually strangers.
Most doctors tell expectant mothers early in their pregnancy about the options of donating, and they get brochures at pre-natal visits.
They can sign consent papers at the hospital, without cost to them. 
“Collection doesn’t change their delivery plan or birth in any way,” Berger said. “After delivery, we get the blood samples. We don’t touch the baby.”
The need for cord blood is greatest for minorities. Cord blood donations are listed on a national registry, allowing doctors to find the right match for a patient.
Last year, more than 12,000 new mothers donated cord blood to the six hospitals that the blood bank serves: Duke Hospital, Duke Regional Hospital, UNC Hospitals, Women’s Hospital in Greensboro, Rex Hospital in Raleigh and Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg.
“Once people are educated about the program, they love to participate,” Berger said. “The message we want to get out is that we really need more minority donors, and we want people of all races and ethnicities to find a match in the bank.”
For Krystal Brinson, the blood bank gave her something money never could.
“My son is extremely happy now,” she said. “He’s energetic, and more independent. The transplant saved his life.”


For more information, call the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at 919-668-1119 or visit