An Australian man by the name of James Harrison is sometimes referred to as “The Man with the Golden Arm.” He’s also responsible for saving the lives of more than 2 million babies thanks to his countless blood plasma donations.
It’s not just the number of donations he’s given though (which is estimated to be around 1,173). There’s also something really special about Harrison’s blood.
The 82-year-old has a rare antibody in his blood plasma that’s used to create a medication called Rh immune globulin. It’s sometimes also called anti-RhD immunoglobulin or Anti-D. For mothers at risk for Rh incompatibility, also called rhesus disease, this drug is a lifesaver for their children.
According to the Australian Red Cross, Harrison’s donations have been used to save around 2.4 million babies. And until 2015, every batch of Anti-D created in Australia was made using his blood.
For mothers with Rh incompatibility with their unborn babies, their immune system can attack the fetus’s red blood cells. In turn, with so many red blood cells destroyed, it can lead to complications like anemia or brain damage. In some severe cases, it may even cause stillbirth.
The medication made from Harrison’s blood can prevent such complications.
Up until the mid-1960s, thousands of babies died every year in Australia because of Rh incompatibility. Then, doctors found something special – the antibody that could prevent the disease. Harrison became one of the first known donors.
Now, thanks to the use of Anti-D, the disease has all but been eradicated in the developed world.
Harrison’s Gift to 2 Million Babies
As a child, Harrison underwent a major medical procedure.
“In 1951, I had a chest operation where they removed a lung — and I was 14,” Harrison told CNN. “When I came out of the operation, or a couple days after, my father was explaining what had happened. He said I had (received) 13 units (liters) of blood and my life had been saved by unknown people. He was a donor himself, so I said when I’m old enough, I’ll become a blood donor.”
For over 60 years, Harrison donated blood plasma nearly every week. In turn, he saved the lives of millions.