Meet The Man Who Donated Blood Every Week For 60 Years And Saved Lives Of 2.4 Million Babies

Meet The Man Who Donated Blood Every Week For 60 Years And Saved Lives Of 2.4 Million Babies

James Harrison's unique blood type meant he could help create disease-fighting antibodies to fight rhesus disease.

James Harrison has donated blood almost every week for over 60 years and for that he's a national hero in Australia. Nicknamed "Man With the Golden Arm," Harrison finally retired from donating blood after he turned 81. Those over the age of 81 can't donate blood in Australia. The Australian Red Cross Blood Service states that James Harrison saved the lives of more than 2.4 million babies. What makes James Harrison's unique is that his blood has special disease-fighting antibodies that help fight rhesus disease. He's only one of 50 people in Australia to have blood that can help fight rhesus disease, reported CNN.


Rhesus disease is a rare condition when the pregnant woman's blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby's blood cells. If unchecked, the disease can cause brain damage or even death to the baby. It happens only when the pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) while her fetus has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive), which is inherited from its father. In cases where the woman with rhesus-negative blood has been sensitized to rhesus-positive blood, usually because of a previous pregnancy involving a rhesus-positive baby, she is likely to produce antibodies that attack the baby's blood cells, assuming they're foreign. 



The discovery of Harrison's blood type was revolutionary. "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," said Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, in 2015. "Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was quite revolutionary at the time."



James Harrison's blood produced unique disease-fighting antibodies which helped develop the injection Anti-D. The injection helps fight rhesus disease. Harrison first found out about his blood when he had a major chest surgery at the age of 14, stated the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. It was blood donations that saved his life and from that moment, he decided to reciprocate whatever he could and has done so for 60 years now. A few years after he started donating blood, doctors discovered his blood contained the antibody to help create the Anti-D injections. He started donating blood plasma to help create more injections to aid in fighting rhesus disease. Doctors speculated that he may have acquired the rare blood type thanks to the blood transfusions he received when he was 14, following his surgery. 





"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." said Falkenmire. "And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives." More than 3 million doses of Anti-D injections have been given to Australian mothers with rhesus-negative blood type since 1967. Harrison's blood came in handy for his own daughter when she gave birth to a baby boy. "That resulted in my second grandson being born healthy. And that makes you feel good yourself that you saved a life there, and you saved many more and that's great," said Harrison.



He has won countless awards for donating blood on a frequent basis including the Medal of the Order of Australia, one of Australia's most prestigious honors. "It becomes quite humbling when they say, 'oh you've done this or you've done that or you're a hero,'" Harrison said. "It's something I can do. It's one of my talents, probably my only talent is that I can be a blood donor."

Recommended for you