Medicine

This man's blood has saved the lives of two million babies

This man's blood has saved the lives of two million babies

The blood donations saved his life, and he decided that once he turned 18, he would begin donating blood as regularly as he could.

"I hope it's a record that somebody breaks, because it will mean they are dedicated to the cause", Mr Harrison said of his last donation. Harrison's plasma contains an antibody that has saved the lives of 2.4 million babies.

This is a potentially deadly condition that can occur when mothers and their unborn babies have incompatible blood types.

Anti-D prevents Haemolytic Disease of the Newborn (HDN), which can cause anaemia, enlarged liver and spleen, brain damage, heart failure, and death, in newborns.

Soon after donating, he was found to have Rhesus-negative (Rh-) blood and Rhesus-positive (Rh+) antibodies.

Doctors are not yet sure of why the 81-year-old has such a rare and unique blood type which develops both the Rh-negative blood and Rh positive antigens, but they think that this might have happened due to the blood transfusions he received when he was 14.

His "golden arm" has even helped his own daughter, Tracey, give birth to a healthy son, thanks to her father's precious blood.

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Harrison has donated blood more than 1,100 times.

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.

"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. He's one of no more than 50 people in Australia known to have the antibodies, according the Australian Red Cross blood service. "The end of a long run", Harrison says as his blood flows from the crook of his right arm to the plasmapheresis machine at the Town Hall Donor Centre.

"In 1951, I had a chest operation where they removed a lung - and I was 14", recalls Harrison, who is now aged 78. It's made from the plasma of donors like Harrison. His blood has been used to create anti-D in Australia since 1967. His mother, Kristy Pastor, first received the Anti-D injection during her second pregnancy. The Blood Service recently started a three year research project to harvest Harrison's DNA and create a library of his monoclonals - the cocktail of antibodies and white blood cells that herald a promising new phase in the Anti-D program. "I didn't think about it any further, and then looking into it a bit more, I found out about James and how awesome he is and how many donations he's made, and that it was all because of him".

One of the countless mothers he has helped over the decades is Joy Barnes, who works at the Red Cross Blood Bank in Sydney.

"His body produces a lot of them and when he donates his body produces more", Falkenmire said.

Harrison is considered a national hero, and has won numerous awards.