The most successful elected officials often are those with the patience to see their ideas through. A decade ago, long before he became a member of the California Assembly, Anthony Portantino knew what he wanted to accomplish.
|Anthony Portantino, left, and City of Hope’s Joseph Rosenthal before a legislative session (Photo by Diego de la Garza)|
His neighbor’s son had cancer and was treated through a successful transplant using donated umbilical cord blood. When Portantino learned of his neighbor’s story of survival, he wanted to help others in the same way. He got his chance when his second child was born: Portantino and his wife donated her cord blood.
The donation was far from easy, though. No system was in place for transporting the cord blood from the hospital, and few centers were equipped to bank the blood. “I was handed a bag of cord blood and I had to pack it on ice and ship it,” he said. “That’s when I realized that we were throwing out this precious resource rather than using it to save people’s lives. Something had to be done when so many Californians can’t find bone marrow donors.”
Portantino vowed to make the process easier — a promise he kept on his first day in office as a state legislator. Through a pair of recent bills supported by City of Hope, Portantino created California’s first public cord-blood collection program at a time when partisanship makes funding new public programs difficult.
Like bone marrow, umbilical cord blood is a source for the blood-forming cells used in transplants. Since 1988, it has been used to treat leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood diseases.
Because cord blood transplants are a growing part of City of Hope’s repertoire of treatments, City of Hope backed the bills and provided information to legislators on the importance of passing the legislation.
In 2006, Portantino’s first bill on cord blood collection, AB 34, set up a public cord blood collection program. His follow-up legislation this year, AB 52, modified the program and created a secure funding stream to support it. It was signed by the governor in September and becomes law in 2011.