An Australian man who has been donating his extremely rare kind of blood for 56 years has saved the lives of more than two million babies. James Harrison, 74, has an antibody in his plasma that stops babies dying from Rhesus disease, a form of severe anemia. He has enabled countless mothers to give birth to healthy babies, including his own daughter, Tracey, who had a healthy son thanks to her father’s blood.
Harrison has been giving blood every few weeks since he was 18 years old and has now racked up a total of 984 donations. When he started donating, his blood was deemed so special, that his life was insured for one million Australian dollars. He was also nicknamed the ‘man with the golden arm.’ His blood has since led to the development of a vaccine called Anti-D.
Harrison made a pledge to be a donor at age 14 after undergoing major chest surgery in which he needed 13 liters of blood. ‘I was in hospital for three months,’ he said. ‘The blood I received saved my life.’ Just after he started donating, he was found to have the rare and life-saving antibody in his blood. At the time, thousands of babies in Australia were dying each year of Rhesus disease. The disease creates an incompatibility between the mother’s blood and her unborn baby’s blood. It stems from one having Rh-positive blood and the other Rh-negative.
After his blood type was discovered, Harrison volunteered to undergo a series of tests to help develop the Anti-D vaccine. ‘They insured me for a million dollars, so I knew my wife Barbara would be taken care of,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t scared. I was glad to help.’
Scientists found that his plasma could treat the condition, and since then, it has been given to hundreds of thousands of women. It has also been given to babies after they are born to stop them from developing the disease. It is estimated he has helped save 2.2 million babies so far. James Harrison is expected to reach the 1,000 donation milestone in September this year.