An Australian man with a rare blood type could be responsible for saving the lives of more than two million babies.
James Harrison, 78, has donated blood every week for the past 60 years, earning the nickname “The Man with the Golden Arm.” He explains in an interview with CNN how he came to earn that title. “In 1951, I had a chest operation where the removed a lung, and I was 14,” explained Harrison.
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.
Not long after he started donating blood, doctors explained that his blood could provide an antidote for a rare condition in babies known as Rhesus Disease, which occurs when a woman with rhesus-negative blood (Rh-negative) conceives a child with rhesus positive (Rh-positive) blood, according to WebMd. Children with this disease can experience brain damage or even death.
“In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful,” Jemma Falkenmire of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service told CNN. “Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage.”
Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary. His blood is actually used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies.
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.
Even though Harrison has donated more than 1,000 times and is regarded as a national hero in Australia, having won numerous awards, he insisted to the first ever 24-hour news network that one thing has not changed. “Never once have I watched the needle go in my arm,” he said. “I look at the ceiling or the nurses, maybe talk to them a bit, but never once have I watched the needle go in my arm. I can’t stand the sight of blood, and I can’t stand pain.”
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