Link #27: Harrison Saved 2 Million Babies with His Blood!


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Link #27: Harrison Saved 2 Million Babies with His Blood!

Bags of blood

The human body is extremely resilient and powerful. As mentioned in the last post, your heart can spurt blood to up to 30 feet under the right conditions. However, even though the human body is so dynamic and strong, there are situations where it can suffer from the inside out.

Consider the Rh disease which is passed on by a mother to her child during pregnancy. It’s a disease caused by a clash between elements of the mother’s blood and the child’s blood. However, with problems like these, there are often solutions as well.

In the case of the Rh disease, the solution is James Harrison who has singlehandedly saved more than 2 million babies in his happy life. The best part is that all he needed to achieve this marvellous feat was a single arm!

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How Did Harrison Save the Lives of so Many Unborn Babies?

A newborn female human infant. Image credit: Ernest F GFDL

At a very young age, it was discovered that James Harrison had a specific type of protein in his blood plasma (antibody). The antibody, Rho(D) Immune Globulin, was naturally produced in Harrison’s body.

The Rho(D) IG antibody is given to a pregnant mother if it is suspected that she is Rh (D) negative while her unborn child is Rh (D) positive. When discovered, it was unique and the only way to counter the development of the Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn (HDN).

Harrison has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million babies simply by donating his plasma as much as possible. This is why the media and the people related to the babies he has saved call him ‘the man with the golden arm’.

Harrison Pledged to Donate Blood When He Was Only 14!

blood transfusion
A patient in a blood transfusion process. Image credit: makelessnoise cc2.0

Donating blood is considered to be a good deed. Still, there is another reason why Harrison decided to donate his blood even before its special quality was discovered. When Harrison was 14, he had to go under the knife for what was a major chest surgery.

He received approximately 13 litres of donated blood and lived because of it. After he recovered, he vowed to donate blood when he grew up. Once he was 18, he started donating blood and within a few months it was discovered that his blood was special.

Harrison Has Donated More Than 1,000 Times

blood donating
Australian Volunteer Mary Elliot donates blood as part of a blood drive organised for International Volunteers Day, Honiara, Solomon Islands, 2013. Photo: Lou Anderson / DFAT cc2.0

James Harrison was born in 1936 which means that he is now 78 years old. In his life, Harrison has donated his blood or plasma more than 1,000 different times. It was possible for Harrison to do this because a person can donate plasma much more frequently than blood.

In fact, the discovery of the Rho(D) IG in Harrison’s blood was so crucial that Harrison’s life itself was insured. It was insured for 1 million dollars which was a huge amount in those times.

More importantly, Harrison’s donations resulted in the development of a commercially available medicine for preventing HDN. The commercially produced medicine is called RhoGAM among other names. Derivatives of Harrison’s blood, such as RhoGAM, are given to one woman in every ten these days.

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