Unshakable Resolve Of This Determined Blood Donor Helps Save 2.4 Million Babies From Premature Deaths

Philanthropic activities can take many forms and one is donating blood. James Harrison learned this when he was only a 14-year-old Australian boy, who has had a major chest surgery and had received 13 units of blood that saved his life. His father had at that time had told him that got saved by unknown blood donors.

This probably stuck in this teenager’s mindand he resolved to return the favor in the same coin once he recovers. However, according to the Australian laws for blood donors, he had to wait till he was 18. Such was Harrison’s eagerness to give back to society that he patiently waited to turn 18 and then started donating blood regularly, despite being averse to needles and the accompanying pain.

In the 1960s, the instances of miscarriages, stillbirths and brain defects in babies was on the rise in Australia for inexplicable reasons. It was found that it was hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) that was causing this. In HDN, an Rh-negative blood type pregnant woman rejects her Rh-positive blood type fetus, due to incompatibility. The solution lay in infusing women with donated plasma with a rare antibody.

The search for blood containing this rare antibody began and ended in New South Wales at the door of James Harrison. Harrison, who was a regular blood donor for over a decade,was only too happy to participate in Anti-D Program.

Harrison’s contribution to this program was the development of Anti-D injection that used plasma from his donated blood. The first recipient of this injection was a pregnant woman in 1967. Harrison, who continued to donate his blood for more than 60 years, was instrumental in developing of millions of Anti-D injections, helping an estimated 2.4 million babies.

Every ampule of Anti-D made in Australia has Harrison’s plasma in it. Little wonder, he entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2003 for this feat. Now at 81, he has finally passed the age for blood donation. His record of 1,173 blood donations in his lifetime still stands. 

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Written by Deepak Mehla

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