Through donation programs, placentas continue to support life

July 2024


A placenta nourishes life: it provides oxygen and nutrients to a baby in the womb, removes waste from the womb, and produces hormones that regulate fetal development.

After birth, just one placenta can continue to help in dozens of ways: it can help heal wounds, treat diabetic ulcers, address eye injuries, aid in dental procedures, and advance other medical treatments. The placenta helps with difficult-to-heal wounds because it is full of cells and tissues that stimulate the body to heal.

Sometimes, a patient asks to take the placenta home for religious or cultural reasons or makes their own arrangements to donate it for medical uses. But typically the tissue is disposed of as medical waste.

Hospitals within three CHA member systems have recently implemented or expanded placenta donation programs in an effort to help others.

St. Mary's Regional Hospital
Rainy Tieman is a labor and delivery clinical nurse manager at St. Mary's Regional Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, part of Intermountain Health. She got the idea for a placenta donation program after seeing an information table at a national conference for the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.


"When I stopped at the booth I thought, what is the downfall of this?" Tieman said. "In my opinion, there isn't a downfall. It's something we would have destroyed anyway. If we're thinking about recycling items from our own homes, why don't we think about recycling an organ, something that could help other people?"

She brought the idea back to her director at the time. Then the pandemic hit, and the idea got put on hold.

Meanwhile, she learned that because St. Mary's is a Catholic hospital, it couldn't partner with the organization that had the table at the conference because the organization uses fetal cells for testing. Tieman learned about Denver-based AlloSource and the hospital decided to partner with that nonprofit tissue donation organization. AlloSource is one of the largest human tissue providers that creates allografts, or tissue grafts, from living and deceased donors. Patients can receive bone, cartilage, ligament and other allografts to aid healing.

New patients get information about AlloSource and the placenta donation program when they visit their obstetrician/gynecologist's office. A childbirth educator who gives tours of St. Mary's also discusses the program, and when patients come in to deliver their babies, labor and delivery nurses ask if they've decided on donation.

Starting the program wasn't as simple as leaving a bunch of informational brochures and fliers at doctors' offices. AlloSource did initial education around a six-month rollout. "They said, here's what the program would look like," Tieman said. "They sent people from their organization on site to do hands-on training."

Now, the hospital employees keep up with new developments and train new hires.

All the hospital has had to provide is space for a small refrigerator, which AlloSource supplied, and an extra tube of blood from each patient that gets sent with the placenta, Tieman said.

Since the program went live in January 2022, patients at the hospital have donated more than 200 placentas. St. Mary's has about 1,300 deliveries a year, so there is room for improvement, Tieman said. Intermountain Health Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver also provides the opportunity for new mothers to donate their placentas.

Patients cannot donate if they are delivering babies earlier than 36 weeks or if they test positive for COVID or had been exposed to the virus in the previous months.

"We get great feedback," Tieman said. "When they learn about it, they're like, I didn't actually know that this was an option. It's so cool that we're able to donate an organ that is going to be sent down to medical waste anyway."

Trinity Health Ann Arbor
Patients at Trinity Health Ann Arbor have been donating placentas since 2018, but not many patients took the opportunity. It was initially for mothers who underwent a cesarean section and had made arrangements before arriving for delivery.

In 2019, Coleton Voss was the first baby in Michigan to have his placenta donated as part of the Gift of Life Michigan program at what is now Trinity Health Ann Arbor Hospital.

A couple of years ago, Ashley Kingsbury, the hospital's labor and delivery clinical practice leader, looked at how to expand the program. Patients now are given information about donation during the third trimester and upon arrival at the hospital when they are ready to deliver. Patients who deliver vaginally are included.

In 2023, the hospital added a representative from the transplant organization Gift of Life Michigan to the labor and delivery unit. If patients express interest in donating their placenta, they can talk to the representative.

Trinity Health Livonia and Trinity Health Oakland Hospitals, also in Michigan, participate in the donation program, too, but they do not have an on-site representative from Gift of Life.

"We have drastically grown our program," Kingsbury said. "We are continuing to grow and continuing to figure out the program and how to develop it."

She said that in 2019, Trinity Health Ann Arbor had four donations, and in 2023, the hospital had 205. So far in 2024, it has had 278 placenta donations.

To see that one placenta can help up to 50 people has been "very rewarding" for the staff, Kingsbury said.

"They'll see our Gift of Life rep come in and say, 'How many have we done this month?'" she said. "It's a little bit of a staff satisfier to know that something to normally go in biohazard and get discarded is now helping hundreds of people."

When SoutheastHEALTH in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, joined Mercy in early January, it brought with it several programs including placenta donation, in place since 2016. Dr. Margaret Marcrander, clinical vice president of women's services and the regional service line chair for the east community, said Mercy had donated placentas years ago but the program had faded away.


"For me, as a leader, I'm always looking for opportunities to kind of help or expand what we do in creative ways," she said.

The hospital in Cape Girardeau, now Mercy Hospital Southeast, worked on placenta donations with Cardinal Biologicals in Cape Girardeau. According to its website, Cardinal Biologicals "collaborates with hospitals to streamline the donation process, reducing medical waste costs while supplying essential materials for research."

In June, the collaboration was expanded to Mercy St. Louis, which has about 8,450 deliveries a year. About 30% of placentas go to pathology. If the hospital can get even 70% of the remaining patients to donate, that would be about 4,000 placentas, says Marcrander.

She hopes the donation program will expand across Mercy by next spring. "Throughout our ministry, we do about 26,000 deliveries," she said. "So it would be upwards of 12,000 placentas, which would be very, very nice for research."

"It feels good to further research and it's part of the patient's desire for their birth experience, which is very important to the nurses and the physicians and the staff," Marcrander said. "All we want is for our patients to get that experience that they want, and if this is part of it, we hope we can fulfill it for them."


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