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Final donation for man whose blood helped save 2.4 million babies
13 May 2018, 11:45 | Melissa Porter
James Harrison donated blood nearly every week for 60 years
But this man from Australia has saved 2.4 million lives!
More than three million doses of Anti-D containing Mr Harrison's blood have been given to Australian mothers with a negative blood type since 1967. Harrison's plasma contains an antibody that has saved the lives of 2.4 million babies.
This disease is a condition where a pregnant woman's blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby's blood cells. This could lead stillbirths, hearing impairment, blindness or brain damage among children.
Doctors are not yet sure of why the 81-year-old has such a rare and unique blood type which develops both the Rh-negative blood and Rh positive antigens, but they think that this might have happened due to the blood transfusions he received when he was 14. He said I had (received) 13 units (liters) of blood and my life had been saved by unknown people.
James Harrison has donated his blood, almost every week, since the past 60 years.
The blood becomes sensitized when the positive RHD blood is exposed to the negative blood and causes the mother's immune system to produce molecules that will fight the infection, called antibodies, that will destroy the cells. Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was revolutionary at the time.
Jemma Falkenmire at the Australian Red Cross Blood Donor Service said "very few people have the these antibodies in such strong concentrations". The mother's body treats the blood of the fetus as a foreign invader and attacks with antibodies.
Harrison's blood has unique, disease-fighting antibodies that have been used to develop an injection called Anti-D, which helps fight against rhesus disease.
"I'd keep on going if they'd let me", he told the Herald. "Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James' blood".
His generosity as a continuous donor stems from a brush with death at the age of 14, when he had a chest operation, and committed himself to helping others by giving blood on a regular basis.
But he has already surpassed the donor age limit and the Blood Service made decision to protect his health.
Anti-D, produced with Harrison's antibodies, prevents women with rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy.
In Australia, 17% of the pregnant women have received Anti-D, and even Mr. Harrison's daughter got it. "I didn't think about it any further, and then looking into it a bit more, I found out about James and how fantastic he is and how many donations he's made, and that it was all because of him".
The 81-year-old Australian has donated more than 1,100 times since turning 21.
During pregnancy, some of the baby's blood can cross into the mother's bloodstream.
"His body produces a lot of them and when he donates his body produces more".
That would be more than two million lives, according to the blood service, and for that Harrison is considered a national hero in Australia.
Despite donating for 50 years, James said he's "never once watched the needle go in".
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