Almost a year after the birth of his first son, scientist and business leader Ricky Martin is overjoyed to be a father. But the 2012 winner of The Apprentice is also frustrated that umbilical cord stem cell storage, a life-saving service, is still under-reported, misrepresented and under-used in the UK.
In the second part of this exclusive Cord Blood Matters story, Ricky shares his experience of cord blood and tissue storage and explains why it is so important to him to raise awareness about scientific advances in healthcare.
Science can give more families a healthy future
If you’re a parent, you’ll know exactly what Ricky Martin means when he says his baby’s birth felt like ‘a miracle’. Ricky is very open about the joy his wife Gemma and son Alexander have brought into his life, but he is also every inch the scientist and business leader and doesn’t make decisions lightly or without a great deal of research.
Gemma and Ricky have been very open about their IVF journey to parenthood, and are very aware that their happiness has in part been enabled by scientific advances. Over the past year, it has been Biovault Family’s privilege to get to know Gemma and Ricky and to support them in storing Alexander’s cord blood and tissue stem cells. The couple now hopes to raise awareness around umbilical stem cells so that more parents have the opportunity to store their own babies’ potentially life-saving cord blood and tissue, beginning with sharing their own personal story. Here we ask Ricky some key questions surrounding umbilical stem cells and include his unedited answers in full.
How did your decision to store cord blood and tissue affect your birth preparations?
“Based on agreeing to collaborate with Biovault for the collection and storage of Alexander’s cord blood and tissue, one of the biggest concerns I had was how it would impact our birthing plan. Being first-time parents Gemma and I had no idea what to expect with the labour process anyhow, so to start adding things that were not the norm and commonly spoken about in NCT did worry us to begin with. That said, these were my feelings going into it, but the reality is it could not be any easier. After a few calls with the Biovault team my reservations were put to rest and all it required was one additional point to add to our birthing plan which I made aware to the midwives on the day.
Simple, straightforward and so much easier than I could have expected.
How did the collection affect your experience during Gemma’s labour, Alexander’s birth and your family time after his birth?
The collection made pretty much no difference to the labour experience. As Gemma’s birthing partner it was my role to ensure that the collection was looked after and with two simple phone calls (one to notify our private Phlebotomist that things were starting to happen, and one to the courier to come and collect after the birth of Alexander) everything was sorted.
I did not need to do anything else other than be the most supportive person I could to my wife who was in the process of performing a miracle (well that’s what I call it anyhow as after rounds of IVF the birth of Alexander was a miracle in my eyes).
What does having access to Alexander’s stem cells and cord tissue mean to you as a dad?
One word – confidence!
I have the confidence that if anything unexpected happens I have the support of science to give him the best possible chance of help. After trusting science to help us bring Alexander in to the world (via IVF) I am again trusting science to help us keep him in this world, if we ever need to call on his stem cells or core tissue.
I wanted to be a dad for many years, and I will do anything it takes to ensure I can help my beautiful little man have the best possible future, and having access to these gives me the confidence I can do so.
What does it mean to you as a scientist?
The same word again – confidence. I am a Biochemist and spent the majority of my adult life putting my faith and commitment to science to make the world a better place.
I see this as being no different than another commitment to science to give my little man a life to lead. I am more confident in this by trusting the science of stem cells and cord tissue.
As you know, umbilical stem cells are now being trialled and used for a range of life-enhancing treatments such as sports injury repairs, as well as therapies for more serious conditions. Was this a factor in your decision?
To be honest it was not. My decision was mainly based on more serious conditions.
I was completely unaware of this additional benefit at the time and it is a brilliant example of just how quickly science and the use of stem cells is developing. Reality is one day we may call on Alexander’s stem cells or cord tissue for some therapeutic benefit, but today it is hard to predict what for.
All I know we have maximised our chances for whatever the use will be by doing this.
And as somebody who is very keen for his son to get involved in competitive sports, this is music to my ears. That said I don’t think his mum is that keen is he follows his dad’s footsteps of being a professional wrestler which is what I did in my earlier career ☺
What was your experience with Biovault Family like? Is there anything we could do to improve our service to dads like you?
What Biovault did so well, was make me feel part of their family. It may sound cheesy to say that and it may sound like a sell on their behalf, but it genuinely was the truth.
Biovault put me at ease, took a look of the burden away from me and most importantly, like any good family member, actually cared about our journey. I looked at looks of different companies to support me with blood cell and cord tissue collection and storage, however, most made me feel like part of a money-making machine which focused on cost, over care. I don’t think I would have even progressed with these services if care was not the number one thing.
The only thing Biovault could have done differently is show-case clear examples of stories of people using their services. The great news however is they now are, and this is where I hope Alexander’s story is. Alexander the great is how I refer to him ☺
Why are you sharing your story?
I am sharing as despite being a scientist, and probably more informed on such services than others, I still feel there is an educational piece missing in the market.
These services come under more scrutiny than they do positive publicity, and it has to change. Gemma and I were lucky enough to have a child and we called upon multiple rounds of IVF to help, with science guiding the way.
There are many others either on or about to start, a fertility battle with the desire of having a child. I feel our story of wanting to safeguard the future of our little one, is something which comes on behalf of anybody who has a fertility battle (successful or not) as it’s the right thing to do for life’s biggest miracle and what we all would do if possible. We will never take for granted our little man, and this is a step of how we are showing that.
Thank you to Ricky Martin, Gemma and Alexander for sharing your story and permission to share your beautiful family photos.
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.