Georgina Russell knew that the blood in her baby’s placenta and umbilical cord was nutritious, but she never suspected that it would become so precious to her whole family.
Georgina was four months pregnant when she received the terrible news that her older brother, Ashley, had a rare, slow-growing form of the brain tumour, glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma is associated with a wide range of commonly occurring symptoms, such as headaches and nausea. For this reason, it can take a long time for sufferers to recognise the seriousness of their condition. Ashley had been suffering from vague symptoms for months before changes to his coordination and vision prompted him to seek medical advice. Having confirmed glioblastoma with MRI, Ashley’s doctors estimated that he had just five years to live.
Ashley is just 34 years old and worked for the Royal Navy until his diagnosis in August 2017. He and his wife have a daughter, Alexis, who has recently turned two. “She’s so like her Dad,” says Georgina, “Ashley’s always been a family man. At least now he has his family around him and he’s able to spend time with his daughter. That’s the best thing for him really.”
Determined to help her brother in any way possible, Georgina spent the days following his diagnosis researching his condition and emerging treatments. Then, late one night she made the discovery that could save Ashley’s life. “I knew that the placenta was nutritional and could help the recovery of the body,” says Georgina “and I thought, what a shame for that to go in the bin. Then my cousin sent me a link to a story about breast milk being healing and used to fight infection. This was interesting, but it wasn’t enough. I started typing things in and eventually came across a site that mentioned umbilical cord blood. I thought, oh my goodness! Doctors are using stem cells from the cord to treat different cancers! I was reading this and thinking, I’ve got this cure inside me right now!”
Georgina was shocked to learn that cord blood stem cells have been used in over 400,000 transplants to treat over 80 diseases of the blood and immune system, and yet no one she knew had heard of cord blood storage. “It should become a part of our education.” She says, “It’s so important. In schools and antenatal clinics, people need to know that their child or a member of the family might need these cells. This is Ashley’s life. A life that’s ending far too early.”
The next day, Georgina compared umbilical cord blood banks in the UK and spoke to Nikki at Biovault Family. Nikki talked her through the unique properties of umbilical cord blood and the process of collection and storage. “I realised, this could be it,” Georgina says, “with Ashley being my brother there would be a good chance of a match.”
Feeling reassured that the family had a plan, Georgina tried to carry on as normal. Then, six weeks early and in the middle of a theatrical performance of Sister Act, Georgina’s waters broke. “I was at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool,” Georgina says, “and I felt a gush. I stood up and ran to the toilets. Luckily a retired midwife had spotted me and saw that I was bleeding. My partner rushed us in a taxi to the hospital where they did a scan and discovered a dark line between the womb and placenta. I had clots and had been bleeding for a long time. After two days in hospital, I was taken for a C-section.”
Despite everything she had been through, Georgina was determined that the umbilical cord be collected safely. “I was in trouble, my baby was in trouble but I just kept saying: Do not throw away that cord! Biovault were amazing. It was a bank holiday but they all pulled together. Nikki rang me and told me not to worry; they would get a kit out to me. As soon as that was sorted out I could relax.”
Baby Charley was delivered safely and has had a powerful effect on Georgina who feels closer than ever to her family. “We are five siblings,” she says, “and there are so many photos of the five of us together as children. To remove Ashley is like removing a piece from the picture; a piece of the jigsaw puzzle would be missing. Since I’ve had Charley I can begin to imagine how our mum is feeling right now. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever felt, it’s heart-wrenching.”
Ashley and Georgina’s mother worked for many years in a hospice, caring for people of all ages with conditions like glioblastoma, and was the first to recognise the seriousness of her son’s condition. “She knew it was something neurological,” says Georgina, “and she’s devastated. She’s seen the journey that Ashley could have ahead of him. Our hope is that because his tumour is slow growing, and medicine is moving fast, the medicine will progress quicker than the tumour.”
With Charley’s cord and placenta blood and tissue safely stored away, Ashley’s family and friends have pulled out all the stops to organise fundraising events to pay for his treatment. “Ashely is overwhelmed by all of the support.” Georgina says, “He can’t believe that so many people care so much. But that’s human nature. If someone can help, they will”
Help Charley to make her uncle well again
Ashley’s family aim to raise £10,000 towards his medical treatment. You can help to put Charley’s stem cells to good use by contributing to via Just Giving.
Protect your family by storing your baby’s cord blood
Georgina chose Biovault Family to process and store Charley’s cord blood and tissue. Biovault Family are the only cord blood bank in Europe to be accredited by both the AABB and JACIE and the only private storage facility to work in partnership with the NHS. You can find out more here: Biovault Family and speak to Nikki, or another member of the Biovault Family team on 01752 753723.