Not many people can say they’ve saved the lives of babies with their blood, but James Harrison’s blood has helped save the lives of more thank 2.4 million babies.
The Australian Blood Cross Service calls him the “man with the golden arm” and he’s donated more blood than anyone on the planet and holds the Guinness Book of World Records. But what makes his contribution especially exceptional is that his blood plasma also contains unusually high levels of an antibody used to make a lifesaving medicine for babies.
Nearly every week, for the past 61 years, Harrison donated his blood. His blood was discovered to contain a rare and potent antibody that is used to make a lifesaving medication called Anti-D. The medication is used to fight a disease known as Rhesus D Haemolytic Disease (HDN) that causes multiple miscarriages, still births, and brain damage or fatal anaemia in newborns.
This past week (on May 10, 2018), the 81-year-old Australian made his final blood donation.
The disease occurs when a pregnant woman with an Rh negative blood type is carrying a baby with Rh positive blood. Her body “identifies” the baby’s red blood cells as a threat (much like an infectious virus or bacteria) and produces antibodies to attack the “invader”.
Harrison’s plasma has been used in every ampule of Anti-D made in Australia since he began donating in 1957. After he discovered his rare blood could help save babies, he continued to donate his blood, making 1173 blood donations in his life.
“It’s a sad day for me. The end of a long run,” Harrison told The Sydney Morning Herald upon finishing his last donation. “I’ve saved a lot of lives and brought a lot of new kids into the world. So that makes me feel good.”
No synthetic version of the antibody has been able to be produced, so Australia’s Anti-D program is wholly dependent on donors like Harrison. Australia’s program has just 160 donors, and with Harrison’s retirement now 159.
Watch an interview with this remarkable man in the video below.