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Blood donation from "Man with the Golden Arm" saved millions of babies



When he was 14, James Harrison needed surgery. And how he would find out, he would also need a lot of stranger's blood to survive it.

After recovering and becoming an adult, Mr. Harrison felt compelled to pay for it, he said. For the next 60 years, he stifled his strong aversion to needles – he says he never saw anyone go in his arms – and gave blood every few weeks to places all over Australia.

Along the way, physicians made a startling discovery: Mr. Harrison's blood contained a rare antibody necessary to make a groundbreaking medication that officials from the Australian Blood Transfusion Service had reported that they had more than two million babies before any potential rescued fatal illness.

They said more than three million doses of anti-D, as the drug that contains Mr. Harrison's blood, has been given to mothers since 1967.

On Friday, Mr. Harrison took his place at the City Hall Blood Donor Center in Sydney for his last donation. Medical staff at the Red Cross decided that their esteemed donor should stop giving at age 81 to protect his own health.

Watch the video of the episode Mr. Harrison – known as "the man with the golden arm" – He picked up a stress ball as four silver balloons danced overhead, the balloons being numbered 1, 1, 3 and 7 – representing the total number of times Mr. Harrison gave blood.

"The end of an era," said Mr. Harrison, a retired railroad administrator, from his New South Wales home on Sunday "It was sad because I felt like I could go on."

The value of his contributions is hard to overestimate.

The Red Cross estimates that about 17 percent of Australian women who become pregnant are anti -D Injections Need Keep your babies healthy and the injections can only be made from donated plasma, which comes in Australia from officials described as a "small pool" of about 160 donors who have the special antibody in their blood

In A few years later, babies with certain blood types other than their mothers may develop a hemolytic disease of the fetus and the newborn, a potentially fatal condition. Officials estimated that Mr. Harrison's blood helped more than 2.4 million babies last month.

"I'm crying just thinking about it," said Robyn Barlow, the program coordinator who recruited Mr. Harrison [19459009TheSydneyMorningHerald

Mr. Harrison donated blood for more than a decade when researchers found him in the 1960s and asked him to become the first donor in what later became known as the Anti-D program.

His blood was just what they were looking for. His body naturally produces the antibody that prevents the hemolytic disease. Mr. Harrison said he still was not sure why, but he believes that it may have something to do with the blood he got as a teenager.

"The Red Cross and Australia can never thank a man like James enough," said Jemma Falkenmire, spokeswoman for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. "It's unlikely that we'll ever have another blood donor ready to make that commitment."

Mr. Harrison has been widely praised and has received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his many years of support to the Australian Blood Transfusion Service and the Anti-D Program. Ms. Falkenmire said researchers even worked on what they called a "James-in-a-Jar project" with the goal of synthesizing a blend of antibodies that matched what Mr. Harrison naturally produces ,

According to Ms. Falkenmire, physicians are able to stimulate the production of the antibody in donors, but the process can lead to a wing-like reaction. She added that not every potential donor – even the one with the right blood type – is able to produce the antibody, as Mr. Harrison can.

On Sunday, Mr. Harrison said he enjoyed it, the mothers, nurses, and others who had avoided each other over the years to find and thank him.


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