In 1950 at the age of 14, an Australian teen underwent a major chest surgery that required 13 liters of blood. Upon his release from the hospital three months later, he vowed to pay it forward, plasma-style, and donate blood as soon as he was of legal age.
And donate he did; during the last five decades, James Harrison has donated more than 1,000 liters of blood. Even more remarkable is that his blood contains a rare antibody that prevents babies from dying from Rhesus disease.
It is estimated that Harrison’s donations have helped save more than 2.4 million babies.
It was shortly after his first donations that the rare antibody was discovered in his Rh-negative blood. At the time, thousands of babies in Australia were dying each year of Rhesus disease, reports the Daily Mail. The disease stems from a tragic incompatibility between the mother's blood and that of her unborn baby, which happens when an Rh-negative mother is carrying an Rh-positive baby. When the mother’s body detects the baby's blood in its circulation, it treats it as a foreign invader and the immune system begins producing antibodies to destroy the baby’s blood. In subsequent pregnancies, the antibodies can cross the placenta and attack the baby's red blood cells, leading to sever anemia, jaundice, brain damage and miscarriage.
Ever since it was found that Harrison’s blood could treat the disease, doctors have been giving it to pregnant women to treat the condition; it has also been administered to babies after they are born to stop them from developing the disease.
Harrison – who is also known as the “man with the golden arm” – has also undergone testing to help develop the commercial Anti-D immune globulin commonly known as RhoGAM. At the time of the research he was insured for one million dollars; but for Harrison, no monetary value can be attached to what he does.
“Volunteering is always a worthy pursuit; donating blood is priceless. In the end, you walk away knowing you've helped someone seriously in need, and it doesn't cost you anything,” he wrote in an Op-ed piece for The Australian.
“As individuals,” he added, “we should be taking the time now to give back to our community by rolling up our sleeves and making a habit of donating blood.”
Ten News reports on the story in the video below:
Related stories on MNN: