The blood of one single man has saved the lives of two million babies.
Australia’s James Harrison probably reminds many of you of your own father or grandfather. But there’s something about him that makes him unlike any individual you’ve ever heard of – he has a golden arm.
Well, not really.
Seventy-eight-year-old Harrison was given the nickname of “The Man With the Golden Arm” because he has donated blood plasma from his right arm every year for the past 60 years.
His reason for doing so is a personal one.
In 1951 –when he was 14-years-old – Harrison had a serious chest operation that resulted in the removal of a lung. He received 13 units of blood in the procedure. He promised himself that he too would give blood once he was old enough.
It wasn’t too long after Harrison’s first time giving blood that doctors called him in with a shocking revelation: his blood could be a new miracle solution to a deadly problem.
Up until the late 60s, a disproportionate number of Australian babies were dying each year – and doctors had no clue why. Women were also experiencing a high rate of miscarriages, and babies were being born with brain damage.
The culprit became known as rhesus disease, a condition where a pregnant woman’s blood begins to attack her unborn baby’s blood cells and can cause brain damage or death for the babies.
The disease occurs when a pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has inherited rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive) from its father. If the pregnant mother has been sensitized to rhesus-positive blood – usually during a previous pregnancy with a rhesus-positive baby – she could produce antibodies that destroy the baby’s “foreign” blood cells.
In a revolutionary discovery at the height of the problem, doctors found an unusual antibody in Harrison’s blood and worked with him to use the antibodies to develop an injection called Anti-D.
The drug prevents women rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy. Now, according to the Australian Red Cross blood service, it has been credited with saving the lives of more than 2 million babies.
Meaning, Harrison’s precious blood has saved 2 million lives. Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from Harrison’s blood. No big deal, right?
According to doctors, a potential explanation for Harrison’s rare blood type could be traced to his childhood blood transfusions.
The sad news is that Harrison will have to retire that golden arm of his in the next couple of years. There are less than 50 other fellow Australians known to have the antibodies – so the hope is that some of them can step up to the plate the way that Harrison has.
I mean, the guy has donated his plasma more than 1000 times and is aptly considered a national hero.
Now, that’s what I call “giving back.”