Published: Sun, May 13, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

This man's blood has saved 2.4 million babies

This man's blood has saved 2.4 million babies

Aussie James Harrison has donated 1,117 bags of blood, which contains an antibody used to help treat babies with Rhesus disease, a form of anaemia, which affects babies while they're in the womb and can be fatal.

Rhesus disease is a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman's blood destroy her baby's blood cells. If left untreated, the baby can suffer brain damage or die.

This disease, also called Rh disease or Rhesus D Haemolytic Disease (RHD), is the result of the mother and the fetus having different antigens in their blood.

According to CNN, doctors are unsure why Mr Harrison has this rare blood type, but they concluded that it might have been triggered from the transfusions he received while a teenager, after his operation, which saved his life. So he started making blood plasma donations every week.

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. After developing immunity, the mother's antibodies will start attacking the baby's blood the way an immune system attacks foreign invaders. Australia became the first country in the world to be self-sufficient in the supply of Anti-D.

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When he was 14, Harrison underwent a major chest surgery, receiving blood transfusions that saved his life, according to a statement published by Australian Red Cross Blood Service website. The medicine is given to mothers whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies. "Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James' blood".

But he has already surpassed the donor age limit and the Blood Service made decision to protect his health.

Since 1976, Harrison's blood has been used in more than 3 million injections given to Rh-negative Australian women, the organization says.

"I'd keep on going if they'd let me".

In Australia, 17% of the pregnant women have received Anti-D, and even Mr. Harrison's daughter got it. More than three million does of Anti-D have been issued to Australian mothers with negative blood types since 1967. He is one of fewer than 50 people in Australia known to have the antibodies, the blood service said.

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Harrison draws out the process as he reclines in a chair, squeezing a firm sponge absent-mindedly and enjoying the gaggle of half a dozen Anti-D babies cooing in their mothers arms; families who have come to thank him on his last day.

"All we can do is hope there will be people out there generous enough to do it, and selflessly in the way he's done", she said.

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

In an interview with the news channel several years ago, he said that despite donating, he had not witnessed the process: 'Never once have I watched the needle go in my arm'.

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