‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to collect cells

Debra Higgins was shocked on returning to Ireland after living in Philadelphia to find a medical service commonly available in the US was difficult to source in the Republic.

Awaiting the birth of her first child, Matthew, in 2007, Debra wished to store her baby’s stem cells as a precautionary measure should he develop any serious illness in the future.

As a qualified molecular biologist, she was more aware than most people that stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood could act as a potential additional treatment. However, she had to attend the privately run Mount Carmel Hospital in south Dublin for Matthew’s birth in order to fulfil her wish.

“Should he develop any disease, I know that he will have another avenue of treatment to pursue. I think this is a very important consideration for any parent.”

She pointed out that a person’s own stem cells offered a lifetime’s perfect match which gets around any risk of rejection which can occur with stem cells sourced from a third party.

“Had I chosen to have my precious child in one of the national maternity hospitals, this choice to store Matthew’s umbilical cord stem cells would have been taken away from me. There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to access these cells.”

A private company, Medicare, arranged the collection and storage of adult stem cells from Matthew’s umbilical cord, while Debra’s obstetrician agreed to the procedure on the provision that there were no complications with the birth. The umbilical cord blood was then sent to Britain for the extraction and harvesting of adult stem cells and storage.

Debra estimated that the total cost of the service was about €2,000. However, medical experts believe the cost would fall to €350 plus an annual storage fee of €50 if a general scheme was available in Ireland.

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