James Harrison was your average fourteen-year-old Australian boy when he had to have surgery to remove one of his lungs. The procedure took eleven hours and required 13 units of blood, every last one of them donated by kind strangers. Upon waking up from the surgery, he was told of the amount of blood that was given to him to ensure that he survived. he was immediately moved and made a promise right then and there. As soon as he turned 18, he was going to start paying it forward and donating blood himself.
For the next sixty years (yes, that’s not a typo, I said sixty) Harrison donated blood every single week. But here’s the kicker. Thanks to the 13 units he received from various strangers when he was fourteen, he had an incredibly rare blood type. Upon studying it, doctors discovered that it had disease-fighting antibodies that most people’s blood does not have. In fact, they discovered that it could be used to create something called Anit-D, an injection that can protect pregnant women from rhesus disease.
Now, before writing this piece I didn’t know the first thing about rhesus disease. So it’s okay if you don’t either. But it’s definitely something to be taken seriously. It’s a condition in which a pregnant woman’s blood literally starts attacking the blood cells of her unborn baby. It can cause the baby to be born with brain damage or, even worse, to never be born at all. It’s believed that thousands of women were dying in Australia every year because of this disease and doctor’s couldn’t find a solution. Until James came along.
All of the sudden doctors had the ability to fight rhesus disease. And it was all thanks to the antibodies that James was providing them. Can you imagine how much of a difference something that powerful could make over a sixty year period? Well, you don’t have to imagine. Because it is estimated that since they first developed the antibody from James’ blood, as many as 2.4 million babies have been saved. 2.4 million! That is absolutely incredible.
Naturally, James has become a well-known hero in Australia, where he is now affectionately known as “The Man With The Golden Arm.” He was even awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, which is one of the greatest honors an Australian citizen can receive.
“It becomes quite humbling when they say, ‘Oh, you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re a hero,” James said in a recent interview. “It’s something I can do. It’s one of my talents, probably my only talent is that I can be a blood donor.” What a great and humble man. We can only hope there are more men and women like him out there! We’ll definitely need them, as James recently turned 81 and is now unable to donate blood anymore.
I for one believe we haven’t seen the last of people like James. Who knows… maybe you’re the next James Harrison.