In 1951, James Harrison underwent a major chest surgery where the doctors removed one of his lungs. The 14-year old James was hospitalized for 3 months and during that time, he learned that he survived thanks to the transfused blood he had received. Then James took a vow, as soon as he gets better and turn 18, he would become a donor himself. The day James turned 18, he rushed to donate blood. He kept his promise and kept donating for 60 years, managing to save millions of lives.
When Harrison became a donor, the doctors noticed something unique about his blood. They discovered that his blood can solve a deadly problem.
“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,” explains Jemma Felkenmire of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.
The cause of all these issues was actually rhesus diseases. It’s a condition where the pregnant’s woman’s blood starts attacking the unborn baby’s blood cells. The disease occurs when a pregnant woman has RhD negative and the baby has RhD positiv, inherited from the father. The doctors found that James has rare antibodies in his blood so they worked together to develop an injection that will solve the rhesus disease – Anti-D injection.
Doctor can’t explain why James has this rare blood type and antibody. There are less than 50 people in Australia that have the antibodies that James has.
“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary. Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James’ blood and more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives,” explains Felkenmire.
James has helped save about 2.4 millions of lives to be exact.
James is known as the “Man with the Golden Arm“ and he has just made his final, 1,173 blood plasma donation.
“It becomes quite humbling when they say, ‘oh you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re a hero. It’s something I can do. It’s one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor. They asked me to be a guinea pig, and I’ve been donating ever since. I’d keep on going if they’d let me,” explains Harrison.
James has surpassed the donor age limit so he can no longer donate. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1999.