When James Harrison was 14 years old, he underwent a major surgery that required blood donations to sustain his life.
Afterward, at that young age, Harrison decided that he would begin donating his blood to help others in need, CNN reports.
More than 60 years later, the Australian man has been declared a national hero for donating blood nearly every week of his life and saving millions of babies’ lives. He is known as the “Man with the Golden Arm.”
Last week, Harrison made his last donation before the country’s age cutoff of 81, according to the report.
His unique blood type made the donations even more vitally important. According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, only about 50 other people in Australia are known to have the same type.
“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary. 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,” said Jemma Falkenmire of the Red Cross. “And more than 17 percent of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives.”
The organization estimated Harrison’s donations have helped save more than 2.4 million babies’ lives.
His donations even helped save one of his grandsons
According to the report:
Anti-D, produced with Harrison’s antibodies, prevents women with rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy. More than three million does of Anti-D have been issued to Australian mothers with negative blood types since 1967.
Even Harrison’s own daughter was given the Anti-D vaccine.
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“That resulted in my second grandson being born healthy,” Harrison said. “And that makes you feel good yourself that you saved a life there, and you saved many more and that’s great.
The discovery of Harrison’s antibodies was an absolute game changer, Australian officials said.
“In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful. Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage,” Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, told CNN in 2015. “Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was quite revolutionary at the time.”
Though he has received awards and accolades, Harrison has not sought them. His humility came through clearly in the interview with CNN.
“It becomes quite humbling when they say, ‘oh you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re a hero,’” Harrison said. “It’s something I can do. It’s one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor.”