For more than 60 years James Harrison has been donating blood.
After 1173 donations, Harrison has helped save over 2.4 million Australian babies, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Harrison is the ideal donor to stave off hemolytic disease of the newborn, or HDN, which is a disease that occurs when there is “an incompatibility between the blood types of the mother and baby” according to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
A mother’s antibodies will attack the red blood cells, resulting in the newborn developing anemia. Because of this, there are a variety of complications that can arise due to this condition.
This disease is treatable with a blood transfusion during pregnancy to help balance out the red blood cell count.
Harrison’s blood contains a rare disease-fighting property, and has therefore been used to develop a serum called Anti-D that helps treat HDN.
Sydney Morning Herald reports that:
The effects can be devastating. The disease causes multiple miscarriages, still births, and brain damage or fatal anaemia in newborns.
However, thanks to Harrison, and his natural production of the necessary combination of blood required for these transfusions, numerous infant lives have been saved.
His eagerness to donate blood stems from a chest surgery he had as a teenager that required 13 units of blood transfusions. Harrison said his current loyalty to donating blood is his way of giving back.
Robyn Barlow, the Rh program coordinator who first recruited Harrison, said:
“It’s an enormous thing … He has saved millions of babies. I cry just thinking about it.”
According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, infants are more susceptible to HDN when their mothers are in their “second or higher pregnancy.” Caucasian babies are three times more likely to develop HDN than African American babies.
Thankfully, HDN is now easy to test for and simple to treat. However, it is thanks to people like Harrison that supplies of the necessary blood are available to help save infant lives.
Harrison, now 81 years old, has to end his blood donations for the sake of his own health.
However, he said that if they’d let him continue, he’d “keep on going.” Harrison added, “It really is the gift of life. It’s so important.”