SYDNEY – James Harrison, known as “The Man with the Golden Arm” and a national hero in Australia for saving 2 million newborns lives by donating his plasma from his right arm.
Researchers were amazed by his blood and its ability to save lives, so they insured his life for a million dollars. His blood has been used to create life-saving injections to combat rhesus.
It was even used to help save his own daughter’s child. He’s been donating blood every couple weeks for the past 59 years totaling over 1000 blood donations. All of his donations have saved an estimated 2.4 million babies that would’ve suffered from the rhesus condition.
“In 1951, I had a chest operation where they removed a lung when I was 14.When I came out of the operation, or a couple days after, my father was explaining what had happened. He said I had [received] 13 units of blood and my life had been saved by unknown people. He was a donor himself, so I said when I’m old enough, I’ll become a blood donor,” 78-years-old said.
Rhesus disease is a condition where 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.
Rhesus disease happens 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 a rhesus-positive baby, she may produce antibodies that destroy the baby’s “foreign” blood cells.
According the Australian Red Cross blood service, Doctors still aren’t exactly sure why Harrison has this rare blood type but they think it might be from the transfusions he received when he was 14, after his lung surgery. He’s one of no more than 50 people in Australia known to have the antibodies.
Harrison now donated his plasma more than 1,000 times, but no matter how many times he’s given blood there’s one thing that will never change: “Never once have I watched the needle go in my arm,” he says.
“I look at the ceiling or the nurses, maybe talk to them a bit, but never once have I watched the needle go in my arm. I can’t stand the sight of blood, and I can’t stand pain.”
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