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James Harrison

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In 1954 James Harrison  was born on December 27, 1936.  He is from Australia.  He was donating blood when doctors discovered something that would change medical history forever.  James Harrison is also known as the man with the golden arm, which is what his blood was known as.  As a teenager he had major surgery which required a blood transfusion of over 3.4 US gal of blood, his life was saved thanks to that blood transfusion.  The experience of others giving to him made him realize that he too needed to give back to others, strangers who had donated blood that saved his life inspired him to begin donating blood at 18.  It was at that point that doctors detected that James’ blood naturally produced a rate anti-body.

Anti-bodies are found in the blood or other body fluids.  They are created to fight against one kind of antigen.  This rare anti-body became a major breakthrough in the fight against Rhesus disease, this disease affects pregnant women’s’ babies.  About 27% of women will need the injection of Anti-D.  Sometimes when the mother and babies immune systems are not the same, the mom’s immune system treats the fetus’s (unborn baby) blood cells as different from her own and attacks them, which can lead to the fetus having anemia or heart failure because the body has to work so much harder to pump blood and oxygen to the heart.

Rhesus disease is a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her baby’s blood cells. It’s also known as thrombolytic disease of the fetus and newborn.   At one point James’ blood became so important to medical science that his life was insured for $1 million dollars after finding out what his blood could do for the unborn fetus.  It is thanks to James that doctors were able to develop a most unique injection, anti D, to be given to women who are pregnant to make sure their unborn child are protected.

Anti-D will not pass onto the fetus, so the red blood cells within the fetus stay safe.  James has been donating what is known as blood plasma, blood plasma is the yellow liquid part of the blood.  He has been donating blood for over 62 years and it is estimated that he has over 1,000 donations and it has been determined that his blood donations have helped save over 2.4 million babies.   He is often stopped by mothers on the street thanking him for his rare gift.  These mothers are so grateful to him for their children.  In fact, his own daughter Tracy needed the injection when she was pregnant with her second child, Scott.  Scott is now donating his blood as well.    James hold the Guinness World record for most donations, but he says that that is one record he doesn’t want to hold on to.  He hopes it is broken many times over.  Harrison was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia on June 7, 1999.  He was also nominated for Australian of the year, but didn’t win.  In 2011, he was nominated in the New South Wales Local Hero division of the Australian of the Year awards.

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James Harrison