James Harrison's blood contains an unusual antibody that has helped doctors combat Rhesus disease

By Drew Mackie
Updated June 10, 2015 08:50 PM
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A man who has saved millions of babies’ lives in his native Australia is now being recognized for his good deeds worldwide.

James Harrison, 78, gives of himself in a very literal way. For the past 60 years, he has donated blood plasma, and those donations have in turn been used to save an estimated 2 million Australian babies from Rhesus disease, a potentially fatal condition resulting from a negative blood-type mother conceiving a positive blood-type fetus.

When Harrison was 14, he underwent an operation and needed donated blood to survive. In thanks for these donors’ generosity, he pledged to give blood himself. And upon donating, doctors realized that his blood carried an antibody that could help fight Rhesus disease. Using Harrison’s blood, doctors developed the Anti-D injection, which can protect babies from the affliction.

This week, a CNN profile on Harrison’s life-saving blood has helped spread word of his good deeds beyond Australia. The story has since gone viral.

“Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody,” explained Jemma Falkenmire, spokesperson for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. “James has effectively helped babies in Australia, but he’s [also] helped babies around the world.”

While Harrison is being celebrated for his heroism, he told CNN that every single time he donates plasma, he has to look away when the needle enters his arm. “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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Known as “the man with the golden arm,” Harrison gave his record-setting 1000th plasma donation in May 2011. Speaking to Australia’s TEN News he said, “I could say it’s the only record that I hope is broken, because if they do, they have donated a thousand donations.”