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Giving the gift of life through placenta donation Written by Amy Lynch

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Labor and delivery clinical nurse manager Rainy Tieman had wanted to implement a placental donation program at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction ever since she heard about the innovative initiative at an Association of Women's Health Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses national conference. In January, her goal finally became a reality.

Working with AlloSource, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of fresh cartilage tissue, the new St. Mary’s program allows delivering patients to donate their placentas after birth to be repurposed and processed into grafts that can be used for burns, diabetic wounds, tendon and nerve wraps, gynecological procedures, ocular and facial wound repairs, and other purposes.

An easy process for delivering patients

“The process is seamless in a way,” Tieman said. “We already collect the placentas anyway, and instead of disposing of them with medical waste, if the patients give consent, we can now ship them to AlloSource.”

“St. Mary’s is the only facility in western Colorado I’m aware of that does this,” added Jenn Tuning, St. Mary’s director of Women's and Children’s Services. “The staff has been very engaged in educating patients to allow them to donate. There’s been a lot of excitement about it.”

Since the program launched earlier this year, 15 out of 175 patients have chosen to donate their placentas. Patients of any age can donate if they have reached 36 weeks of gestation and are free of HIV, Hepatitis B or C, and COVID-19 infection within the past month.

"If their provider determines that the placenta needs to be examined by pathology, they can’t donate,” Tieman said. “Otherwise, there’s no extra preparation involved.”

The screening process also includes a donor risk assessment interview, a physical exam, and a blood draw for serology testing. After the collection, AlloSource representatives receive the donated placentas to package and ship to the company’s headquarters in Denver for processing.

More and more patients are participating

“We’ve had a good response to the program so far,” Tuning said. “Most of the patients we discuss donation with seem to be open to learning more about it.”

A recent St. Mary’s patient, Kelsey, chose to donate her placenta after her nurse explained the process in detail.

“I was so impressed that they can make up 81 skin grafts from my placenta!” she said. “I decided to donate because I'm not going to do anything with my placenta anyway, and I think it is awesome that I can help out so many people with an organ that would have been just thrown away otherwise.”

It’s a win-win

For their contribution, donors receive the satisfaction of knowing that their placentas are being put to good use to help others in need. They also receive a cute gift of an AlloSource onesie that says “not all heroes wear capes” as a small token of appreciation.

“I hope to get the knowledge of placenta donation out to the public and increase the number of placentas donated by the end of the year,” Tieman said.

To learn more about placenta donation at St. Mary’s Medical Center, go to https://www.sclhealth.org/locations/st-marys-medical-center/