Cord blood transplant at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance saves local man’s life

SEATTLE — The last place you would think to look for a life-saving treatment for cancer would be the trash.

But each year it’s estimated that 90% to 95% of umbilical cord blood ends up in the garbage.

That’s a harsh reality for the man you’re about to meet.

Because if it wasn’t for someone donating their baby’s cord blood, he may not be here to share his story.

The first thing you'll notice about Chris Lihosit is his sense of humor. This is Chris in 2015, undergoing treatment for leukemia.

Doctors told Chris that, to beat cancer, he needed a bone marrow transplant. So they went to the registry, looking for a match.

"It hadn't even come to my mind that one, I wouldn't even find a match because there is tens of millions of people in the registry and in the world. I only had one person who was a match for me and it was an obscure registry in Eastern Europe. And once they finally contacted that person, they said no."

Chris' hail Mary was a clinical trial at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance using umbilical cord blood to treat cancer.

Chris wasn't just a good candidate -- it was his only option.

"Cord blood was it, capital IT."

Dr. Filippo Milano is Chris' doctor.

"The first word I told him is I don't know how much you know about cord blood, I don't know how much you've been told by others. But you're going to have a good shot here."

It's a good shot because of what's happening inside the lab.

Milano and his colleagues at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance are working to expand umbilical cord blood stem cells, by using multiple units.

"I've heard of people banking their cord blood for their kids, but that's usually stem cell regeneration stuff."

In Chris' case, the cord blood used came from anonymous donors.

It's a process that happens at the hospital when a baby is born; parents can choose to donate their baby's cord blood.

But in many cases, parents don't know to ask, and many hospitals aren't equipped to take the donations. For that reason, 90 to 95 percent of cord blood ends up in the trash.

"It's medical waste; they're there, it can be used."

This is Chris, eight months after his diagnosis, celebrating being cancer free with his team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Chris wants other to know that cord blood can save lives.

"I've got a couple of friends who are expecting. My sister is expecting and I've become the biggest advocate for telling them, donate for one, and ask, ask if it's an option. Sign up. I'm proof positive that it works, that lives are on the line.

"I have a very unusual tissue type, which meant only one person in the world matched me, but there's more than just me out there. There are an entire population of people who are looking for their match. They're looking for their miracle."

Blood Works Northwest runs the first and only public umbilical cord blood bank in the Northwest, partnering with 11 hospitals across the Pacific Northwest. If you'd like to learn more about cord blood and ways to donate, here's a link.

Also, SCCA currently has more than 200 clinical trials open for patients. The cord blood trial is just one of those. If you'd like to learn more about the work happening there, click on this link.