Most of us rarely think about the blood coursing through our bodies. It usually only crosses our minds when we’ve cut ourselves or our hearts have started pounding during a rigorous workout.
For Australian James Harrison, though, blood became his constant preoccupation at the tender age of 14. See, in 1951, Harrison needed to have a lung removed.
The procedure took hours, and physicians needed to give the teenager multiple blood transfusions to keep him alive.
“(My father) said that I had 13 units of blood and my life had been saved by unknown people,” he explained to CNN.
That was when Harrison made a pledge: Since his life had been saved by the blood of others, he would donate blood in return.
As he started donating, Australia found itself facing a crisis. Thousands of babies were being born dead or suffering from brain damage — and no one knew why.
Doctors eventually discovered that a blood disease was causing pregnant mothers’ immune systems to attack their unborn children. But a medication could be made from a rare antibody that would save infants’ lives.
Experts scoured records for a potential match, a donor who had this specific antibody, and do you know who they found? James Harrison, who’d continued to faithfully donate his blood.
When approached in the late 1960s, he quickly agreed to participate in the Anti-D Program, a research effort dedicated to saving these at-risk babies. He has continued donating blood each and every week until this year.
“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary,” Jemma Falkenmire of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service told CNN.
“His blood is actually used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies.
“Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James’ blood. And more than 17 percent of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives.”
He has saved some 2.4 million lives, just to put a number on it. This year he reached age 81, the legal limit for blood donation in Australia, and donated for the last time in May. Now, he hopes that someone else will carry on his legacy of aiding the unborn.
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