Video: This man’s blood has saved the lives of two million babies

Epigraph:

Every human life is sacred and precious. Anyone who saves a life; it would be as if he or she has saved the whole of humanity. (Al Quran 5:32/33)

By Samantha Bresnahan, CNN

On the surface, James Harrison is just an average guy. He loves his daughter and grandchildren, collects stamps, and goes for walks near his home on Australia’s central coast. But it’s what’s under the surface that makes him extraordinary — specifically, what’s flowing in his veins.

Known as “The Man with the Golden Arm,” nearly every week for the past 60 years he has donated blood plasma from his right arm. The reasons can be traced back to a serious medical procedure he underwent as a child.

“In 1951, I had a chest operation where they removed a lung — and I was 14,” recalls Harrison, who is now aged 78.

“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.”

Soon after Harrison became a donor, doctors called him in. His blood, they said, could be the answer to 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,” explains Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. “Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage.”

It was the result of rhesus disease — a condition where a pregnant woman’s blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby’s blood cells. In the worst cases it can result in brain damage, or death, for the babies.

Rhesus disease happens when a pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive), inherited from its father. If the mother has been sensitized to rhesus-positive blood, usually during a previous pregnancy with an rhesus-positive baby, she may produce antibodies that destroy the baby’s “foreign” blood cells.

Harrison was discovered to have an unusual antibody in his blood and in the 1960s he worked with doctors to use the antibodies to develop an injection called Anti-D. It prevents women with rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy.

“Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was quite revolutionary at the time,” says Falkenmire.

Harrison’s blood is precious. He and Anti-D are credited with saving the lives of more than 2 million babies, according to the Australian Red Cross blood service: That’s 2 million lives saved by one man’s blood.

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