NBC 33 Special Report: "Donating Life"

POSTED: Thursday, February 4, 2010 - 10:00pm

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:59pm

A local blood bank in Baton Rouge is on the cutting edge of stem cell research. Lifeshare Cord Blood Bank is the first public cord blood bank in Louisiana. Today, its helping make medical miracles out of what used to be considered waste.

At 22, Courtney Vehnekamp has a lot to look forward to.
She just started student teaching and in a few short months, she’ll graduate from LSU. The senior says after that, she may even go back to school to get her master's degree in school counseling.

But Courtney’s future wasn’t always this promising. Five years ago Leukemia nearly took her life. She says at times, she was so weak she couldn’t lift herself up in her hospital bed.

Doctors told Courtney she wouldn't live long. A bone marrow transplant appeared to be her only hope—and no matches could be found.
Courtney says it wasn’t until then did she realize how serious things were.
"That’s when it hit me it was a life or death situation."

Today, Courtney is cancer free--she says it's all thanks to a small but very valuable donation of cord blood.
"My aunt said 'Why in the world would she need a new umbilical cord?' she had no idea it existed or what it did" joked Courtney.

What is cord blood?
Cord blood comes from new mothers.
Once a woman gives birth its the blood that remains in the blood vessels of the placenta and the umbilical cord that its attached to. According to experts, inside that blood are very valuable stem cells.

"It’s not as powerful as a newborn but its a second close" says Julie Schexnaydre with Lifeshare cord blood bank, the first public cord blood bank in Louisiana.

Schexnaydre says doctors have discovered that what used to be medical waste contains precious stem cells. She says those stem cells used to get thrown away.

"We have recycled a lot in our lifetime but did we ever think we'd get to the place where we could recycle a placenta?”

Now cord blood is helping heal serious illnesses including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia.
Doctors say they still haven't even come close to unlocking its full potential.

That’s why Schexnaydre is hoping more mother’s agree to donating the precious material-- instead of just letting it get thrown away.

The entire donation process is confidential, so Courtney will never know the mother who chose to give away her cord blood. But thanks to that anonymous gift, Courtney will be able to celebrate her fifth “Re-birth”-Day in May.
"Whenever I was laying the hospital bed I never saw myself here graduating or anything. This is quite a thrill."