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look for hope in this cruel world within superheroes from fantasy as they have the power to change the world for the better without knowing that we live among real superheroes. People have been born with a unique gift that they only discovered due to a tragedy. One man who has simply not received enough praise is James Harrison, not the football player, but a casual man who for the last 60 years has donated blood over 1,173 times.

Why is his blood so special?

You may say that there are many blood donors out there that are frequently donating which is very true, but there is something special about Harrison’s blood that makes it even more valuable than gold. Harrison’s blood contains a rare antibody called Anti-D (also known as Rho(D) immune globulin) which is only processed and given to mothers that are pregnant with a negative blood group that has conceived with a partner that has a positive blood group.

The first child born will be ok, but if the mother decided to conceive another child, he or she will be born with Rhesus disease. This disease causes the blood of the mother to attack the blood cells of the fetus. The child can therefore be born with cerebral lesions or even die upon birth. This mainly takes place if the mother with a negative blood group gives birth to a child with a positive blood group which has been inherited from the father.

Harrison with twin boys Seth and Ethan Murray in the Apheresis department at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Hundreds of thousands of babies owe their health, and in some cases their lives, to Harrison. (Source: Australian Red Cross Blood Service)

However, the Anti-D antibody can combat this disease, and with the blood from James Harrison, a vaccine was created. If the mother gets vaccinated before the second pregnancy, any babies given birth in the future will be at no risk of having this disease.

The tragedy that gave him his superpower

Harrison was not born with this antibody, but he actually developed it when he was 14 years old. In 1951, James Harrison had to go through a complicated medical surgery as one of his lungs had collapsed, with doctors having to remove it. His recovery took three months and due to the major blood loss he had endured during the surgery, he had to be given lots of blood in order to recover.

The blood that he was administrated was from an Rh-positive blood group. Combined with his blood group allowed the development of the rare antibody. He knew that he was living only thanks to other people who had donated blood as he required a huge dose to recover, therefore he decided to donate blood for as long as he would live. The only problem was that at the time he was only 14 years of age and the law in Australia says that you need to be 18 in order to donate blood.

Therefore he waited and as soon as he turned 18 he began donating once a week. Donating more times would put his health at risk as it takes around seven to ten days to redevelop 500ml of blood. After his first few donations, medics who analyzed his blood discovered that it contained the rare Anti-D antibody. In 1966, he was asked if he wanted to take part in the trial for a new vaccine called Anti-D which would be produced with his blood. That is the same year that the Anti-D vaccine was created to fight the Rhesus disease.

“It feels good. Because my life was saved by blood transfusions. I’m doing what I can. It costs nothing — a bit of time. And the thanks you get sort of makes you shiver.” (Quote by James Harrison)

Since 1955 he did not miss a week of donating blood as he knew about the disease and the children that he could save. From 1955 to 2018 he donated 1,173 times and in this process saved over 2.4 million children from Rhesus disease. An interesting fact is that Harrison never looked at his arm during donations as he can’t stand blood. A representative from the Red Cross in Australia by the name of Jemma Falkenmire said that every dose of the Anti-D vaccine produced in Australia was from Harrison’s blood.

Holding a world record for most blood donations

At the age of 81, when he stopped donating blood as his age was becoming too risky for his own health, he was awarded by Guinness World Records the world record for most blood donations done by a person. For 62 years to be exact he had donated blood and as he came to his last donation he became a bit sad as he wanted to keep on helping.

During his lifetime, he had tens of thousands of letters and gifts sent to him as appreciation for the children he had saved by donating blood. People even wanted to meet him and thank him in person. That was the case with a mother who thanks to Harrison had given birth to seven healthy and beautiful children.

On the 11th of May 2018, James Harrison donated for the 1,173rd time, being his last time as to keep on donating would bring a major health risk at his age. Named the man with the golden arm for his lifetime dedication, at the age of 81 he said that it costs absolutely nothing to save lives apart from a bit of time dedicated to the cause.

Although the era has ended, there are other people who over the years have developed the Anti-D antibody and can maintain the constant stream of blood that is required to produce the vaccine. At the date on which this article is written, James Harrison is still alive and well at the age of 84. May God give him many more years to live for the millions of lives that he saved.

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