Worthwhile investment

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 12:00am

I refer to recent articles which have appeared in both the Sunday Morning Post and the South China Morning Post, regarding the search for bone marrow donors for the twin brothers of Eurasian origin, from the UK, Alex and Oscar Chan.

We were lucky enough to have a healthy baby delivered by the kind and highly skilled staff at Queen Mary Hospital.

As we are a mixed race couple we were keenly aware of the small chances of finding an appropriate tissue donor should our child ever need one.

As a result, we made arrangements with a private cord blood bank facility in Hong Kong to collect our child's umbilical cord blood at the time of birth.

Although the procedure costs several thousand dollars, we considered it a worthwhile investment. The key to the process is that cord blood must be collected immediately (that is, within five minutes) after birth.

However, the problems arose when labour started and my partner went to Queen Mary Hospital rather than a private hospital.

Whilst the medical and nursing staff were sympathetic to our wishes, they told us that it was impossible for the delivery staff to collect the cord blood sample as their primary concern is the welfare of the mother and newborn.

The impression I got was that cord blood collection required an 'extra pair of hands' that were not available in a public hospital setting. The hospital authorities would permit the placenta to be placed in an adjacent room and allow a technician from the private blood storage facility to process the sample.

However, the cord blood facility said this was not suitable due to the time delay between birth and sample processing and declined to attend the delivery.

As a result, our newborn mixed-race child is not protected by having a sample of its cord blood stored for future use.

Such samples may also be donated to help other children in need.

It must be said that the nursing and medical staff at Queen Mary were extremely interested in the cord blood storage process and did everything they could to accommodate our wishes.

As far as I am aware, the only requirements for successful cord blood harvest are timeliness and asepsis.

It is not a technically difficult procedure and can be performed by any nursing or medically-trained person.

I find it very distressing that greater efforts are not made by public hospitals to assist parents in the collection and storage of cord blood. I believe such arrangements are standard procedure in several hospitals around the world and a similar arrangement in Hong Kong would represent a significant boost to the reputation of Hong Kong as a centre for medical excellence in Asia.

I suggest that public hospitals introduce a programme to harvest cord blood from all newborns.

Many parents would be willing to pay for such a service and recent events have shown the potential tragedy that awaits many loved ones when these facilities are not available.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED I am grateful to your correspondent A.M. Davy-Hou (Sunday Morning Post, November 21) for the suggestion that Hong Kong Marrow Match Foundation conduct a special recruitment campaign for Eurasian donors during the Christmas holiday season.

In order to facilitate this suggestion, I am pleased to announce that the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service has very kindly agreed to accept new donors for the foundation on a daily basis at two of its centres from now until December 20.

The centres and opening times are as follows: Central Office (2526 1420) - G/F Hang Seng Building, 77 Des Voeux Road, Central: Monday to Friday, 11am-6.30pm; Saturday, 12 noon-6pm; Sunday closed.

Yau Ma Tei Office (2771 9036) - G/F 440 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon: Monday to Friday, 11am-7pm; Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon-6pm.

Anyone wishing to enrol as a bone marrow donor who is between the ages of 18 and 55 years and is in good health is welcome to attend these centres between the times shown.

Once again I should like to emphasise the urgent need of the foundation to recruit mixed-race donors, particularly those with one Chinese parent. I should also like to thank the 1,600 new donors who joined the foundation last weekend at its recruitment drive in Discovery Park, Tsuen Wan, and over 200 donors who have joined during the last week at the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service Offices.

Dr BRIAN R. HAWKINS Vice-President Hong Kong Marrow Match Foundation