Moms and babies are helping heal painful open wounds with generous gifts of “miracle tissue”
Little Coleton Voss has no idea how many people he’s already helped in his young life. But with the gift of his nutrient-rich placenta, he has already made a difference for up to 20 patients.
The Fenton-area toddler and his mom, Alyssa, donated his placenta the moment he was born in Ann Arbor 3 1/2 years ago. They were the first to give the tissue with super-healing powers as part of Gift of Life’s placenta donation program, which launched in 2019.
“When my doctor presented the idea of placenta donation, we thought that would be a cool thing to do,” Alyssa said. “We’re excited to know Coleton was part of something bigger when he was born.”
The placenta is tissue that connects a mother’s uterus to the umbilical cord. It delivers nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. Unless donated, placentas are typically discarded after the baby is born. The placenta technically belongs to the baby, making him or her the donor.
Gift of Life’s President and CEO Dorrie Dils is proud to offer placenta donation to parents because it gives them a chance to talk about donation without the stress and trauma of loss.
“Many other families only have the opportunity to donate organs and tissue when they’re grieving,” Dorrie said. “Placenta donation happens at a joyful time.”
The program began with 14 placentas donated at Trinity Health Ann Arbor Hospital. Gift of Life has occasionally worked with physicians at other hospitals with special requests only.
This year is expected to be a breakthrough year for the program, said Tissue Recovery Manager Shannon Renaud, who launched placenta donation at Gift of Life after working with a similar program in another state.
The number of partnerships with Michigan hospitals is growing quickly, including the addition of UP Health System – Marquette in February.
“We’re so excited. Trinity hospitals in Grand Rapids, Livonia and Pontiac would like to work with us,” Shannon said. “Trinity hospitals at Oakland and Livonia recently launched their donation programs, and we have several other hospital groups that are working to build programs as well.”
The expansion will require two new staff positions to handle the potential of thousands of placenta donations in 2023. Her team has recovered 148 since the program was launched, with half of them coming in 2021.
“Placenta is a miracle tissue for healing that helps patients with open wounds return to normal life,” she said. “So, to know more will be donated to help people suffering and in pain, is amazing to us.”
Shannon said placenta properties are so unique, medical experts are still in the early stages of understanding how it can be used.
What is known: Placenta grafts help patients heal stubborn diabetic ulcers and traumatic gaping wounds that won’t close. It also is used in spinal, dental and eye procedures.
That means Coleton was born a hero. The Gift of Life-issued onesie he wore in the days after he entered the world says so. All newborns who are part of the donation program receive one.
Coleton’s dad, Josh, is thrilled that Alyssa and Coleton made a difference for others.
“We’ve always wanted to be a gracious family. If someone needs help, we want to be able to do that,” he said. “Coleton doesn’t grasp yet what he did but as time goes on, we will make sure he understands.”