Known as “The Man with the Golden Arm,” Australia-based James Harrison is responsible for saving the lives of over 2.4 million babies. Thanks to rare antibodies in his blood, decades of regular blood donations to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service have helped create a vaccine called Anti-D. The formula was developed to fight against Rhesus disease—a deadly condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her baby’s blood cells within the womb. Now aged 78, Harrison has recently given his final blood plasma donation, bringing the total to an amazing 1,173.
When Harrison was just 14 years old, he underwent life-threatening lung surgery, which left him hospitalized for three months. His life was saved thanks to transfusions of donated blood, which inspired him to become a donor himself. Australia’s former regulations meant Harrison had to wait until he was 18, but he stayed true to his word and has been donating blood every week ever since, for the last 60 years.
When doctors discovered Harrison’s precious antibody, they guessed it could be down to his earlier blood transfusions as a teenager. Jemma Falkenmire of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service explains the rarity of Harrison’s blood type: “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.” She continues, “And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives.” Having now surpassed the donor age limit, Harrison humbly tells CNN, “I’d keep on going if they’d let me.”
Having received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1999, Harrison’s remarkable generosity has made him a hero to many around the world.