Published: Mon, May 14, 2018
Medicine | By Douglas Stevenson

Man who saved 2.4 million babies by donating blood 'retires'

Man who saved 2.4 million babies by donating blood 'retires'

Each week, the "man with the golden arm", as people call the 81-year-old, has donated 500-800ml of blood plasma. Regardless of what the reason is, the publication stressed that Harrison always remained humble during each succeeding blood donation he made.

Despite donating for 50 years, James said he's "never once watched the needle go in".

Around 10 years later, doctors found that Harrison's blood contained an antibody necessary to create an Anti-D immunoglobin, which helps fight against rhesus disease.

Known as "the man with the golden arm", James Harrison is estimated to have saved the lives of 2.4 million babies after giving blood nearly every week for 60 years.

It only happens when the mother has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive).

When Mr Harrison started donating, his blood was deemed so special that his life was insured for one million Australian dollars.

When the mother's Rh- blood mixes with Rh+ blood, the mother's blood starts to develop an immunity to the Rh+ blood cells.

Doctors believe Harrison's blood contains these special antibodies because of a blood transfusion he received at age 14 when he underwent a major chest surgery. "In Australia, up until about 1967, there were thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn't know why", Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, told CNN in 2015.

If she is pregnant with an RhD-positive baby, the antibodies can cross the placenta, causing rhesus disease in the unborn baby. They realized they could administer Anti-D to mothers and save the babies. Without the medication, the next baby could contract hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn, known as HDN or HDFN, which can be deadly.

Her blood can then cross the placenta and attack the baby's blood cells, thus causing the baby to have a shortage of blood.

"Women were having numerous miscarriages, and babies were being born with brain damage."

At the moment, only 200 donors are qualified for the Anti-D program, though Australian Red Cross Blood Service officials are hoping more people will be eligible for their program going forward. He vowed to become a blood donor himself and began as soon as he was old enough.

Now, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service ruled that Harrison should end his donations, according to the Sydney Morning Herald report, since he has passed the organization's donor age limit.

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