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Man donated so much blood he saved lives of over 2.4 million babies due to his unusual blood type

Man donated so much blood he saved lives of over 2.4 million babies due to his unusual blood type

The 87-year-old donated blood for over 60 years

An 87-year-old Australian man has saved the lives of over 2.4 million babies by donating his blood.

At the age of 14, James Christopher Harrison underwent a major surgery and required a blood transfusion which ultimately saved his life.

In 1954, as soon as he turned 18, he hastily signed up to donate blood in a bid to repay the favor and doctors quickly realized his blood contained a special antibody.

James Harrison donated blood for over 60 years.
Australian Red Cross

Rhesus disease and how Harrison's blood helped fight it

Doctors discovered Harrison's antibodies were particularly strong in disease-fighting and could be used to create 'life-saving medication' Anti-D injections.

"Anti-D immunoglobulin neutralises any RhD positive antigens that may have entered the mother's blood during pregnancy," the NHS' website states.

If RhD positive antigens enter a mother's blood, Rhesus disease can develop, which is a condition 'where antibodies in a pregnant woman's blood destroy her baby's blood cells', NIDirect adds.

"Rhesus disease doesn't harm the mother, but it can cause the baby to become anaemic and develop jaundice," it continues.

Australian Red Cross Blood Service employee Jemma Falkenmire told CNN in 2015: "In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful. Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage."

Putting Harrison's life-saving blood to work

After doctors made the discovery about his strong anti-bodied blood, Harrison started donating blood plasma opposed to just blood, becoming one of the founding donors of New South Wales' Rh Program.

Plasma donations can occur more frequently than blood donations which led to Harrison donating as often as once every two weeks.

According to the Red Cross Blood Service, very few people in Australia are known to have the same antibodies as Harrison does in their blood.

This mean that up until 2018, 'every batch of Anti-D that [had] ever ben made in Australia [came] from James' blood,' Falkenmire said.

Falkenmire continued: "Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary. [...] And more than 17 percent of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives."

Harrison has saved over two million lives.
Australian Red Cross

The 'Man with the Golden Arm'

One woman to receive the an Anti-D vaccine formed from Harrison's blood's antibodies ended up being the donor's own daughter.

"That resulted in my second grandson being born healthy," Harrison said. "And that makes you feel good yourself that you saved a life there, and you saved many more and that’s great."

Known as the 'Man with the Golden Arm', Harrison was awarded with the Medal of the Order of Australia - an honor that recognizes people for outstanding achievement and service.

He has since stopped donating, having reached Australia's age limit of 81 years old in 2018.

The now-87-year-old made his final - and 1,173rd donation - on May 11 that year, having donated blood for a whopping 63 years in total.

The Red Cross is always seeking new blood donors, and can be contacted on 131 495 or at

Featured Image Credit: CNN

Topics: Australia, Health, Science