SYDNEY – An Australian man who has spent most of his life donating blood is retiring.
James Harrison has donated blood nearly every week for 60 years. He’s made 1,100 donations, saving the lives of more than 2.4 million Australian babies, according to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.
Known as the “man with the golden arm,” the 81-year-old’s blood is special. It has disease-fighting antibodies that have been used to develop the Anti-D injection, which helps combat Rhesus D Haemolytic Disease, or HDN.
The illness occurs when a pregnant woman’s blood begins attacking her unborn baby’s blood cells, causing brain damage or death for the baby.
It develops when the mom has rhesus-negative blood and the infant has rhesus-positive blood, inherited from the father. The different antigens cause the mother’s body to harm the baby.
Although doctors are unsure why Harrison’s blood contains the rare antibody that fights the disease, they believe it’s likely due to a major chest surgery he had that required a blood transfusion when he was 14.
Harrison became a blood donor after he recovered from the surgery. Once doctors discovered his blood was one-of-a-kind, he began offering blood plasma donations to help more people.
Now, it’s time for him to retire. Australia doesn’t allow citizens to donate blood past age 81.
“I hope it’s a record that somebody breaks, because it will mean they are dedicated to the cause,” Harrison said of his feat. He has received numerous awards for his generosity.
Harrison will continue to help health experts by donating his DNA samples for future research.
“Australia owes a big thank you to James Harrison, Australia became the first country in the world to be self-sufficient in the supply of Anti-D, and cases of HDN are rare,” Australian Red Cross Blood Service spokesperson Jemma Falkenmire said. “We encourage the partners and friends of all new mothers to think about donating blood, just one donation helps ensure someone has the chance to be a mother.”
© 2018 Cox Media Group.