Natasha MacDonald could not wait for the first cord blood unit to come into the national public cord blood bank. A medical laboratory technologist with the cord blood bank, Natasha says, “All the hard work we have put into this is finally for a reason.”

After years of planning and months of training, preparation, fundraising and validation, as of Sept. 30, mothers delivering at The Ottawa Hospital’s General and Civic campuses are able to donate their babies’ umbilical cord blood to the national public cord blood bank. This precious cord blood will be used to help patients in need of a stem cell match.

Ottawa represents the first of four cord blood collection sites and one of two Canadian Blood Services manufacturing and storage facilities contained within the original east-to-west funding agreement set in March 2011 with provincial and territorial ministers of health.

With $7.5 million in charitable donations to the campaign so far, the national public cord blood bank will be positioned to reach a target of about 18,000 donated cord blood units over six years.

As we start Phase 2, public support of our $12.5-million campaign continues to be crucial to ensure we can start collecting cord blood at hospitals in Brampton (in the Greater Toronto Area), Edmonton and Vancouver by the middle of next year. The second manufacturing facility will open in Edmonton in 2014.

This massive accomplishment means that Canadian patients have access to Canadian cord blood stem cells that better capture our country’s ethnic diversity. Now families can be more optimistic that a match may be available.

The validation phase for the bank began in Ottawa last summer. To ensure a cord blood bank of the highest quality, more than 950 Ottawa-area mothers donated their baby’s cord blood for the critical validation phase. Families truly understand the lifesaving potential of cord blood – something that in Canada is routinely discarded as medical waste.

For Shelley Goulbourne, cord blood stem cells are like striking gold. Being of Jamaican descent, her son Kai was unable to find a donor as his ethnicity wasn’t well represented on the worldwide stem cell database. But the young boy from Brampton is alive today because of a cord blood stem cell transplant.

“We were so grateful that a mother somewhere made the decision to donate her baby’s cord blood,” says Shelley. “It gave our boy a fighting chance to win this battle. Our hope is that other mothers will hear our story and donate their baby’s cord blood.”

Photography by Ross Fitzgerald