Business leader, biochemist and now father to newborn Alexander, Ricky Martin is a busy man. Yet the 2012 winner of The Apprentice always seems to have time for others.
When Ricky and his wife Gemma realised how few of their peers were familiar with the facts of stem cell therapy, they decided to share the story of their difficult journey to pregnancy and their reasons for storing Alexander’s umbilical cord cells. Ricky and Gemma hope to raise umbilical stem cell awareness so that more parents have the opportunity to store their own babies’ cord blood and tissue.
All images by knphotography
We wanted Alexander so much, if we didn’t store these cells we’d be letting ourselves down. – Ricky Martin Twitter
You may know Ricky Martin from the BBC’s The Apprentice, which he won in 2012, charming audiences and the self-confessedly “belligerent” Lord Alan Sugar with his calm decision-making, warmth and integrity.
At Biovault Family we are fortunate also to know Ricky as a fellow scientist, husband and father. A biochemist and member of the Royal College of Chemistry, Ricky runs Hyper Recruitment Services (HRS), a science and technology business founded in partnership with Lord Sugar. When Ricky and his wife Gemma received the longed-for news that they were expecting their first child, Ricky drew on his scientific background to research umbilical stem cell therapies and UK storage facilities, ultimately choosing with Gemma to store their baby’s cord blood and tissue with Biovault Family.
Early in our relationship with Ricky, we discovered that Biovault and HRS share a genuine commitment to using medical innovation to improve people’s lives, prompting us to talk about the challenge of cord blood awareness. Though cord blood stem cells are now used to treat over 80 life-threatening conditions and can cure some blood diseases such as sickle cell anaemia, the stem cell-rich placenta and the umbilical cord are still routinely discarded after birth as if they were waste products.
“When stem cell harvesting is done correctly it’s medically useful and I want to raise awareness of that, and let people know that it can make a difference.” – Ricky Martin, Twitter
Ricky was surprised by how few of his peers knew the facts of cord blood banking. It’s a sad truth that 30 years after the first life-saving cord blood transplant and over 40,000 umbilical stem cell procedures later, newborn cell banking remains unfamiliar and misunderstood in this country, even by the science and healthcare professionals Ricky meets in the course of his work.
This article is the first in a series in which Ricky explains as a scientist, business leader and father, why cord blood matters and why every expectant parent should at least have the knowledge required to make an informed choice about their own child’s umbilical stem cells.
Q: Ricky, we know you from our screens as a successful business person but your decision to share the journey to stem cell storage is more personal. Could you tell us a little about yourself and Gemma and the things that matter most to you?
“Yes, of course. To give you some context, Gemma and I have been together for ten years, living in Kent and Hampshire and now Hertfordshire. I would say we’re both caring people and our work is about helping others to thrive; Gemma works in HR, supporting people to be the best they can be, and my role at HRS is a caring one too. We have this great partnership and for a long time what we wanted to achieve for ourselves personally was to extend that with a family.
“Alexander was born in November (2018) after four rounds of IVF. Gemma and I have wanted a family for years. Lots of couples go through this but it isn’t often spoken about. There can be a gloss that gives the impression that everything is easy, but in fact, we’re a normal hardworking couple in our mid-thirties trying to figure out a new world with a cheeky little chappy!”
Q: We’re so happy for you and Gemma. Alexander sounds like a lot of fun! Can you tell us more about him?
“He’s been smiling like anything recently. He looks a lot like me but I’m told babies do look like their dads at first to help the bonding. He’s very vocal and has this great personality. He’s a mix of us both, this precious little cargo to support and care for, a precious little man I’m going to give everything I can. Which brings us to cord blood because storing his stem cells is one of those things we can do for him.”
Q: What does the opportunity to bank Alexander’s umbilical cord blood and tissue mean to you?
“Gemma and I have been fortunate but also challenged. It has been a long and difficult journey to this point where we have Alexander with us. Cord blood banking is one way that we are protecting ourselves, our family. We wanted a family for so long, why wouldn’t we give him the best possibility? We hope we never need to call on stem cell support but we’d like to know we have the opportunity. We wanted Alexander so much, if we didn’t store these cells we’d be letting ourselves down. We’re protecting him and, if we have another child we’re thinking of his siblings. We realise that we may need stem cell treatment ourselves and then storage might benefit one of us personally but our journey with Biovault was about giving Alexander the best chance in the world.”
Q: How did you first learn about umbilical stem cell storage and treatments?
“I’m a biochemist by trade so I was aware. My company provides expert talent to businesses in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) In fact, we provided Biovault with some expert talent a few years ago!
That was my reason for having a conversation, but as that was a business relationship and I was interested in storing for personal reasons it was not our reason for choosing Biovault Family. We spoke to a few organisations, trying to understand the variations in service and looking for the company we could work with. The others wanted money but Biovault cared more about what I was trying to do, their interest came across and resonated with me.
I also liked the transparency of Biovault’s service – the way the pricing operates means I could make one simple transaction without worrying about my future finances, there are no annual fees so everything is taken care of and I know that we are sorted for 25 years. I may work in a commercial world but I don’t want to spend my free time in complicated financial planning. I like the simplicity and the fact that we are now fully protected.
My final concern was disaster recovery. I felt there was less risk with Biovault. The escrow provision and security planning made us feel protected.
Q: When you had chosen Biovault Family, how did the service work? Did everything run smoothly for you and Gemma?
I was a little sceptical about elements like the phlebotomist getting there, the courier finding somewhere to park, remembering to make the right calls at the right time… labour is just so frantic and emotional, but everything was so much easier than I expected.
We just added cord blood and tissue collection to our birthing plan so that everyone was aware and I made one call when Gemma went into labour. This is where Biovault were really helpful, Sam [Client Advisor] was really clear and the support was excellent.
The collection was quick and simple, everything was packaged up and within an hour the courier had arrived! Whether the right cells had been harvested was out of our hands but my wife and I didn’t need to do a thing, it was all under control.
Q: Why are you sharing your story with others?
As parents, we’re putting a policy in place for a worst case scenario. Too many people aren’t aware of stem cell banking and get into a situation where they need treatment and never knew they could store umbilical cord blood and tissue. When stem cell harvesting is done correctly it’s medically useful and I want to raise awareness of that, and let people know that it can make a difference.
As a scientist and working in this industry, one of the biggest growing markets is regenerative medicine. Why not embrace this pioneering medicine? – Ricky Martin, Tweet
BSc (Hons) Microbiology
Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.