Meet the ‘Man With The Golden Arm’ – James Harrison. He has what we like to call super powers in his blood, which are antibodies that can fight diseases like Rh disease. Rh is a hemolytic disease that can result in miscarriages, anaemia or even brain damage. It stems from a pregnant woman who has rhesus-negative blood and the foetus having rhesus-positive blood, which the child inherits from the father, and the mother’s blood produces antibodies that kill the perfectly healthy blood cells in the foetus.
Harrison, who is from Australia, has putting his blood to awesome use by donating blood every week since the last 60 years and through that, has been able to save more than 2.4 million babies in Australia. He just recently turned 81 and so cannot donate blood any more due to medical reasons, but his past donations have sure changed so many lives!
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service said that Harrison started donating blood when he was just 14. He had a chest surgery and blood donation from someone had saved his life. That’s when he decided that he wanted to donate blood and help out those that need it. A few years later, doctors discovered the antibodies in Harrison’s blood that could be used in developing Anti-D injections, that fight the Rh antibodies in pregnant women who have rhesus-negative blood. And thus, he began with blood plasma donations.
The doctors think that Harrison has these rare antibodies in his blood because of the multiple blood transfusions he got when he had his surgery. According to experts, only around 50 people in the country carry such antibodies in their blood.
“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary. His blood is actually used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies. Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James’ blood.” Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, said. “And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives.”
Harrison’s daughter was also a recipient. “That resulted in my second grandson being born healthy,” Harrison shared.
“In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful. Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage,” Falkenmire said. “Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was quite revolutionary at the time.”
“It becomes quite humbling when they say, ‘oh you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re a hero. It’s something I can do. It’s one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor,” Harrison said.
Well, considering you have won many awards, even the Medal of the Order of Australia, you are a hero, Harrison!