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How This Man's Blood Helped Save Millions of Babies

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Harrison donated blood more than 1,100 times, and it's estimated that his donations helped save the lives of 2.4 million babies.

Nicknamed “the man with the golden arm,” James Harrison has saved over 2.4 million lives. At age 81, after 1,173 blood donations, Harrison has “retired.” At his age, it is no longer safe for him to continue donating blood.

Harrison’s blood has a rare antibody that can fight Rhesus D hemolytic disease, which causes pregnant mothers’ bodies to fight their unborn baby’s red blood cells. Rhesus occurs when a mother with RhD positive blood becomes pregnant with a baby with negative blood. This causes the mother’s body to think it needs to fight an infection. If the baby survives, these antibodies can remain in the baby’s bloodstream and continue to fight it for months after birth. Harrison’s blood platelets have been used in over 3 million doses of anti-D, a medication used to fight Rhesus.

Harrison was “discovered” in June 1967, and was the first donor in a national Anti-D program. He spent the next six decades donating blood and saving lives. This altruistic man initially chose to donate blood after undergoing surgery in which he needed blood transfusions to save his own life. Upon donating blood, the Red Cross discovered that Harrison’s blood was negative with RhD positive antibodies. They believe he is one of only 50 people in Australia with this unique characteristic.

“It’s a sad day for me," he told the Sydney Morning Herald as he gave blood for the last time, "The end of a long run." Harrison holds the world record for blood donation, but he hopes his record will be broken, as it would mean more lives saved.