Australian blood donor retires after saving 2.4 million babies

James Harrison's blood plasma contains an antibody that stops babies dying from Rhesus disease a form of severe anaemia

James Harrison's blood plasma contains an antibody that stops babies dying from Rhesus disease a form of severe anaemia

Fifty years, two million babies: James Harrison's role in a remarkable medical success story.

The 81-year-old, affectionately called the "man with the golden arm", has helped save the babies of more than 2 million women, according to the Australian Red Cross. As the blood donations helped save his life, he made a decision to be a blood donor. The 81-year-old's blood is special.

Soon after Harrison became a donor, doctors called him in.

Ms Falkenmire said that up until 1967, 'there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn't know why and it was very bad. "Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage".

The condition develops 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.

Harrison has a unique blood type, which contains potent antibody which was used to create the Anti-d injection that helps to fight Rhesus D haemolytic Disease (HDN) in unborn babies.

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Anti-D, produced with Harrison's antibodies, 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".

Harrison's blood is precious.

James Harrison has donated his blood, almost every week, since the past 60 years. The medicine is given to mothers whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies.

"Every ampule of Anti-D ever made in Australia has James in it", said Robyn Barlow the Rh program coordinator who recruited Harrison, the program's first donor.

"Medications like Anti-D are a life-giving intervention for thousands of Australian mums, but they are only available because men like James give blood".

James Harrison (centre), surrounded by mothers of Anti-D babies at his final donation.

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Harrison naturally produces the rare combination of RhD-negative blood and Rh+ antibodies, making him the ideal donor. "I cry just thinking about it", she said.

Doctors aren't sure why Harrison's blood contains these antibodies, but once he learned of them, he began donating blood plasma to help more people.

In 1999, Mr Harrison received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his incredible and ongoing support of the blood service and anti-D programme, the organisation stated.

"All we can do is hope there will be people out there generous enough to do it, and selflessly in the way he's done", she said.

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

Thanks to the hours of time and liters of blood he has given, Harrison is considered a national hero.

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In an interview with the news channel several years ago, he said that despite donating, he had not witnessed the process: 'Never once have I watched the needle go in my arm'. "It's one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor".

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