Most people, when they retire, get a gold watch. James Harrison deserves so much more than that. Harrison, known as the “Man With the Golden Arm,” has donated blood nearly every week for 60 years.
After all those donations, the 81-year-old Australian man “retired” Friday. The occasion marked the end of a monumental chapter.
According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, he has helped saved the lives of more than 2.4 million Australian babies.
First, a note about antibodies
Harrison’s blood has unique, disease-fighting antibodies that have been used to develop an injection called Anti-D, which helps fight against rhesus disease.
This disease is a condition in which a pregnant woman’s blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby’s blood cells. In the worst cases, it can result in brain damage, or death, for the babies.
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.
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. That could be deadly for the baby.