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Inspirational Tuesday: Man With the Golden Arm

March 30, 2010

James Harrison is a 74-year-old Australian man who has been donating his blood for 56 years.

Harrison made a pledge to be a donor at age 14 after undergoing major chest surgery in which he needed 13 liters of blood. “I was in hospital for three months,” he says. “The blood I received saved my life so I made a pledge to give blood when I was 18.”

Photo credit: Splash News

Just after he started donating, Harrison was found to have the extremely rare kind of antibody in his blood. He became known as the “man with the golden arm.” Ever since he was 18 years old, Harrison has been giving blood every few weeks and has now racked up a total of 984 donations.

What makes him so special is his extremely rare kind of blood. His plasma has a rare and life-saving antibody that stops babies dying from Rhesus disease, a form of severe anaemia. At the time, thousands of babies in Australia were dying each year of Rhesus disease. Other newborns suffered permanent brain damage because of the condition.

After his blood type was discovered, Harrison volunteered to undergo a series of tests to help develop the Anti-D vaccine. “I wasn’t scared. I was glad to help. I had to sign every form going and basically sign my life away.”

His rare blood and plasma and the Anti-D vaccine has been given to hundreds of thousands of women, and also to babies after they are born to stop them developing Rhesus disease. It is estimated he has helped save the lives of more than two million babies so far.

“I’ve never thought about stopping. Never.”

Harrison is expected to reach the 1,000 blood donation milestone in September this year.

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