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The man who saved 2.4 million babies with his blood

JAMES HARRISON
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James Harrison just made his 1,173rd -- and final -- donation.

The internet has been abuzz lately with news of the “Man with the Golden Arm,” whose blood donations are estimated by the Australian Red Cross Blood Service to have saved 2.4 million babies.

James Harrison of Australian recently gave his 1,173rd — and final – blood donation, a remarkable feat for anyone, but especially significant because Harrison’s blood contains a high concentration of special antibodies used to make “Anti-D” injections. Anti-D is a special medication given to pregnant mothers with Rh- negative bloodtypes to protect their Rh+ babies from developing Rhesus D Hemolytic Disease (HDN), which can be deadly.

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Every ampule of Anti-D ever made in Australia has James in it,” said Robyn Barlow, the Rh program coordinator who recruited James, the program’s first donor. “It’s an enormous thing … He has saved millions of babies. I cry just thinking about it,” she said.

Perhaps most striking about Harrison’s story is how researchers believe he came to acquire the high concentration of the special antibodies in his blood. When Harrison was only 14 years old, he required a major chest surgery, which resulted in 13 units of blood transfusions. Because Harrison was so grateful to the donors who saved his own life, he then felt compelled to continue paying it forward by making frequent blood donations of his own after reaching the age of 18. After multiple donations at various donation sites, it was soon discovered that Harrison’s blood was anything but ordinary, and his blood has been used to make Anti-D ever since. In 1999, Harrison was awarded the Australian Medal of Honor in recognition of his extraordinary efforts and generosity.

Harrison’s story is a remarkable reminder that the hardships we face may someday bring about extraordinary good, and to show our gratitude for the chances we’ve been given by making the world a better place for others. As a 14-year-old undergoing major surgery resulting in the entire removal of one of his lungs and a 3-month hospitalization, it’s easy to imagine that both Harrison and his parents may have wondered, “Why me?” or “Why my child?” But Harrison’s story is an extraordinary example of the incredible good that can come from intense hardship, even if it doesn’t end up in the news.

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