Hospital celebrates 100th blood cord transplant

After being diagnosed with leukemia at 1½ years old, Joshua Ibarrientos underwent chemotherapy on and off for six years. When he relapsed for the third time, his doctors decided to try a cord blood transplant.


Within two weeks, the cancer was gone.


Now Ibarrientos, who has been cancer-free for nearly 10 years, tells his story at events to raise awareness for cord blood transplants.


“I wouldn’t be here without a cord blood transplant,” he said. “It’s kind of my way to give back.”

Ibarrientos, who turns 18 Sunday, spoke at North Florida Regional Medical Center on Friday morning during an event hosted by LifeCord Cord Blood Bank. The event celebrated the 100th cord blood transplant to come from the hospital.


“For the staff and physicians and midwives here, it puts a face to what they’re doing,” said Richard Jones, director of LifeCord.


During the event, 100 smiling teddy bears, each representing a lifesaving unit of cord blood, lined the lawn in front of NFRMC’s Women’s Center. LifeCord wanted to thank hospital staff for providing nearly 20 years of support, Jones said.


LifeCord, a program of LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, was founded in 1998 and started collecting cord blood in 2001. Donations are collected 365 days a year at 11 different hospitals, including UF Health Shands and NFRMC. LifeCord sends blood to patients across the U.S. as well as other countries.


Otherwise discarded as biomedical waste, umbilical cord blood can be donated to save lives, Jones said.

“It’s free, it’s harmless and it can give a chance at a second life,” he said.


After a baby is born, physicians clamp the umbilical cord to collect the blood.


“The amount they collect is smaller than your cell phone,” said Gary Kirkland, LifeCord media relations coordinator. “It’s a tiny amount of blood, but it is powerful.”


The blood is used to research cures for diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Cord blood stem cells can be used to treat more than 70 diseases, including multiple kinds of cancer.

“You can also have a stem cell from an adult donor, but cord blood doesn’t have to be as precise of a match,” Jones said.


After Ibarrientos received his donation and the cancer disappeared, he was able to live a normal life. He loves listening to music, reading books and playing video games like Halo 2.


He just graduated from P.K. Yonge Development Research School and will attend Santa Fe College in the fall. He plans to study computer software engineering and one day become a video game designer.

While he was never able to meet the cord blood donor that saved him, Ibarrientos knows exactly what he would tell them if he had the chance.


“I would say thank you so much for giving me a second life, literally,” he said. 


LFLN REF: 15072016, p. 90-91