By Doug Criss, CNN
Most people get a golden one when they retire Clock. James Harrison earns so much more than that.
Harrison, known as the "Man with the Golden Arm," has been giving blood almost every week for 60 years. After all these donations, the 81-year-old Australian retired on Friday. The event marked the end of a monumental chapter.
According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, it has helped save more than 2.4 million Australian babies' lives.
First, a note about antibodies
Harrison's blood has unique, disease-fighting antibodies that were used to develop an injection called Anti-D, which helps fight Rhesus disease.
In this disease, the blood of a pregnant woman begins to attack the blood cells of her unborn child. In the worst case, it can lead to brain damage or death for the babies.
Here's the reason:
The condition develops when a pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD-negative) and the baby in her womb has Rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive), inherited from the father
When 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. That could be deadly to the baby.
How Harrison Made a Difference
Harrison's remarkable gift of giving began when he had a major breast operation at the age of 14, said the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.
Blood donations He saved his life and committed himself to become a blood donor.
A few years later, doctors discovered that his blood contained the antibody that could be used to make anti-D injections. So he switched to blood plasma donations as many people as possible.
The doctors are not sure why Harrison has this rare blood type, but they think she may be from the transfusions he received at the age of 14 after his surgery. He is one of no more than 50 people in Australia who are known to have the antibodies, says the Blood Service.
"Every blood bag is precious, but James's blood is particularly extraordinary, and his blood is actually used to make a life-saving drug given to mothers whose blood is in danger of attacking their unborn babies Anti-D, which was ever made in Australia, comes from James' blood, "said Falkenmire. "And more than 17% of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save many lives."
Why his donations represented a turning point
Anti-D, produced with Harrison's antibodies, prevents women with rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy. More than three million anti-D drugs have been given to Australian mothers with negative blood groups since 1967.
Even Harrison's own daughter received the anti-D vaccine.
"That caused my second grandson to be born healthy," said Harrison. "And that makes you feel good about yourself saving your life there, and you saved much more, and that's great.
The discovery of Harrison's antibodies was an absolute game changer, Australian officials said.
" In Australia Literally thousands of babies died each year until about 1967, doctors did not know why, and it was terrible. Women had numerous miscarriages and babies were born with brain damage, "said Jemma Falkenmire of the Red Cross's Australian Blood Donor Service to CNN in 2015." Australia was one of the first countries where a blood donor was discovered using this antibody was quite revolutionary at the time.
Why He's a National Hero
That would be more than two million lives according to the Blood Service, and Harrison is considered a national hero in Australia, and has received numerous awards for his generosity, including the Medal of the Order of Australia,
"It gets pretty humiliating when they say, 'Oh, you did that, or you did it, or you're a hero,' said Harrison, 'I can do something. It's one of my talents, probably my only talent, that I can be a blood donor.
Now that Harrison has given his last blood donation (Australia can not donate blood for more than 81 years), Falkenmire and others hope that people with similar antibodies will ascend and donate in their blood.
What we can do is hope there will be people generous enough to make us selfless, "she said.