Like most people, the things I value most highly in life are my family and their health. After having the privilege of meeting a truly miraculous family and the remarkable Virgin Health Bank team, this is ever more true now.
Sandra and Chukwudelue Okoli are the parents of four incredible children. The two eldest children both had sickle cell disease. The oldest child’s condition was very advanced. Kosi was receiving several blood transfusions each month.
The future did not look good for this Nigerian family having two children afflicted with Sickle Cell disease, but their courage, faith and love has been the glue that held them all together through this crisis.
When I met with the Okolis, Sandra informed me that she was "interested in Virgin Health Bank’s Community Banking Programme and wanted to explore the opportunities for stem cell transplantation and regenerative medicine. Along with many scientists and doctors, I passionately believed in the potential of cord blood stem cells for the treatment of diseases today and in the future and with this in mind, it was my belief that stem cells could one day help my children”.
Virgin Health Bank offers the community two cord blood banking programmes to choose from.
There is the traditional Private Banking programme where parents can bank their baby’s cord blood stem cells for the sole use of the family and then there is a Community Banking programme where parents, at a discounted price, can store their baby’s cord blood stem cells in such a way that part of the stored cells remain privately banked for the family’s future use while the remaining part is gifted to the Addenbrooke’s Hospital NHS Trust for clinical treatment within the community. Virgin Health Bank partners with Addenbrookes Hospital’s licensed state-of-the-art processing and storage stem cell lab to provide processing and storage services in the UK.
Sandra, who is a nurse in the NHS, researched their options and reached out to Virgin Health Bank when she was pregnant with their youngest son. She stored the cord blood, hoping that stem cells could be used one day to save the lives of her children.
When Kosi was stable enough to consider a transplant, Sandra and Chukwudelue reached out to Virgin Health Bank. As part of his treatment, Kosi received stem cells from Virgin Health Bank’s Community Banking Programme in late 2010. The transplant was performed at St Mary’s Hospital in London, UK, where Kosi’s sister Nneoma was also transplanted a year later (using bone marrow cells from the youngest child). The stem cells were given to Kosi and both afflicted children are now happy and considered cured.
During Kosi’s transplant, he missed many months of school, suffered a silent stroke and was on life support. As Virgin Health Bank CEO Chris Goodman told me, Kosi is now excelling at school, and once again enjoying football with his friends, thanks to the great care he received from his doctors and the love and support of his family.
I was fortunate enough to meet the Okolis’ at our London offices, and you couldn’t wish to meet a happier family. The youngest child is a huge Spiderman and Power Rangers fan. I sat next to him and told him that he was my hero and that he is a real-life superhero for what he did. He never really thought of himself as a superhero before and was thrilled!
Virgin Health Bank did not charge the family or the hospital for the cells or the transport of the cells. Virgin Health Bank has a gifting agreement with the Addenbrooke’s Hospital NHS Trust that all Community Banked units that are acceptable for clinical use are gifted at no cost to the NHS for use within the community as needed.
This is a savings to the government and the community of about 35,000 GBP per cord blood unit on the international registries.
All profits from Virgin Health Bank to the Virgin Group will be donated to initiatives that are helping to fully realise the potential of cord blood stem cells.
While this story had a happy ending, for many others this is not the case. Many people are not able to get help from cord blood banks because there is just not enough cord blood collected at the time when babies are born, especially in the Middle East. The Okoli family has become instrumental in bringing education and awareness of stem cells to the world. I hope everyone will share their inspiring story and learn more about the life saving potential of cord blood banking for all.