January 20, 2019

Man who saved 2.4 million babies by donating blood 'retires'

13 May 2018, 11:45 | Randall Craig

Donor with rare antibodies gave blood every two weeks for decades to save babies

An 81-year-old Man Saved 2.4 Million Babies By Donating His Rare Blood

But this man from Australia has saved 2.4 million lives!

It's not just the high number of donations that makes Harrison's story so noteworthy.

Because of a rare antibody that is found in Harrison's blood, his donations have directly contributed to saving over 2.4 million Australian babies.

The disease is caused when the blood of the pregnant women starts to attack the blood cells of the unborn baby.

Anti-D prevents Haemolytic Disease of the Newborn (HDN), which can cause anaemia, enlarged liver and spleen, brain damage, heart failure, and death, in newborns.

It only happens when the mother has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive). As the blood donations helped save his life, he made a decision to be a blood donor.

Harrison can no longer donate blood because Australia does not allow donors over the age of 81, but the 81-year-old has vowed to continue helping the medical field by donating samples of his DNA for research, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. As her body starts feeling the baby's blood cells as a "foreign threat", she may then start producing antigens that can be prove to be unsafe for the baby.

"Every ampule of Anti-D ever made in Australia has James in it", said Robyn Barlow the Rh program coordinator who recruited Harrison, the program's first donor. The mother's body treats the blood of the fetus as a foreign invader and attacks with antibodies. "It's one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor".

Soon after Harrison became a donor, doctors called him in.

After a few years of donating, doctors were shocked to find that his blood contained an antibody that directly neutralizes rhesus disease: a unsafe condition in which a pregnant woman's blood attacks her unborn child.

"And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives". His mother, Kristy Pastor, first received the Anti-D injection during her second pregnancy. More than three million does of Anti-D have been issued to Australian mothers with negative blood types since 1967. He's 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.

During pregnancy, some of the baby's blood can cross into the mother's bloodstream.

James, who has been nicknamed "the man with the golden arm" is thought to be one of around 50 people in Australia who carry the antibodies.

"I don't think anyone will be able to do what he's done, but certainly we do need people to step into his shoes", she adds. After more than a decade of whole blood donations, his unique antibodies were discovered, and he switched over to donating plasma instead.

Harrison is considered a national hero, and has won numerous awards.

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