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Jefferson Award Winner Helps Provide Life Line To Transplant Patients

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) - Minority patients awaiting bone marrow transplants stand a better chance for survival, because of this week's Jefferson Award winner. She spearheads a campaign to increase the availability of lifesaving umbilical cord blood.

When baby Anya was born, her parents, Erin and Phuoc Le, donated her umbilical cord blood in case the transplantable stem cells could save someone's life.

"She may be able to bring joy to someone else like she's brought to us," Erin Le said happily.

In the Bay Area, mothers can donate their newborn's cord blood thanks to Helen Roy, the Chief Operating Officer of the Joanne Pang Foundation in San Francisco. The nonprofit was founded by the late Dr. Joseph Pang. It's named for his 9-year-old daughter Joanne, who died of leukemia when a stem cell match could not found.

Roy knew the Pang family. Now she works to increase the availability of umbilical cord blood for treating deadly blood diseases like leukemia and lymphoma.

"I'm just motivated by the idea that something that's normally discarded as medical waste can be used to save a life," Roy explained.

Roy's background is in fundraising and marketing, but she said she found herself drawn to the foundation. She began as a volunteer in 2007 then became its chief operating officer four years later.

"As I got more involved in the foundation, organization, and mission, I just knew this was something I really wanted to do," she said.

Roy established the Bay Area's first public cord blood collection site at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in partnership with a Texas cord blood bank. She spearheaded a second program that provides a portable collection kit so healthy mothers who give birth at other hospitals in the state can donate their baby's cord blood to a public blood bank for free.

Board member Sally Holper says Roy's "can-do" spirit is the lifeblood of the nonprofit.

"She'll never take no for an answer," Holper said. "There's never anything that can't be fixed or accomplished."

Thanks to Roy's efforts, nearly 100 cord blood units have been collected at 18 Bay Area hospitals.

And since Anya Le is of mixed race, her cord blood is especially valuable to fill a shortage of minority and mixed race donations.

"Lives are being saved," Roy said. "That's the impact. And that's the difference."

So for increasing the number of umbilical cord units available to save lives, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Helen Roy.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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