Health Team

Obstetrician with leukemia is helped by cord blood transplant

Posted July 17, 2014 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2014 6:06 p.m. EDT

A doctor who once delivered babies has been saved by them.

Retired obstetrician David Hall of Salisbury was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in November 2012 and searched for a matching bone marrow donor with no success. Then he received a successful cord blood transplant.

“Many people can never find a complete match either in their family or in the adult registry, even though the adult registry has about 23 million donors,” said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of the nonprofit Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at Duke University School of Medicine.

She helped pioneer the use of unrelated cord blood transplants, which led to the first recipient – a young boy – 26 years ago.

“Fast forward to today, there are about 5,000 performed every year,” she said.

She says cord blood, which is collected from the afterbirth of babies, doesn't have to match as closely as with bone marrow donors.

Both types require the patient to undergo intense chemotherapy and radiation to destroy the old bone marrow before the donor's blood can be received.

“The actual transplant was a 15-minute blood transfusion,” Hall said. “In fact, my blood type changed from A negative to A positive.”

Hall, 66, spent 33 years delivering babies and clamping umbilical cords, which became the source of his second chance at life.

Now, he plans to help make such donations more plentiful.

“I want to be involved with it in any way that I can,” he said.

Kurtzberg said Hall will be an ambassador for cord blood donation “to tell other obstetricians and midwives how important this is, and why taking an extra five minutes to save the cord blood can save someone's life.”

WRAL health expert Dr. Allen Mask said not every hospital has a cord blood collection program in place, so expectant parents should ask.

In the Triangle area, Duke, UNC and Rex hospitals are collection sites for the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank.

Expectant moms have to sign a permission form to donate the blood, or parents can choose to pay a private bank to store their baby's cord blood in case they may need it in the future.

Or the cord blood can be discarded.

“But donating it for use by someone else is free, and could save someone's life,” Mask said.

For more information, visit the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank online.