'The man with the golden arm’s blood donations saved 2 million babies

posted by Mark Robertson -

In 1951 he had surgery to remove a lung; he survived because of all the blood donated on his behalf. 

But he vowed then that he too would become a blood donor when he was old enough. 

Meanwhile, doctors in Australia were struggling to figure out why thousands of births in the country were resulting in miscarriages, stillbirths or brain defects for the babies.

The babies, it turned out, were suffering from hemolytic disease of the newborn, or HDN. The condition most often arises when a woman with an Rh-negative blood type becomes pregnant with a baby who has Rh-positive blood, and the incompatibility causes the mother’s body to reject the fetus’s red blood cells.

Doctors realized, however, that it might be possible to prevent HDN by injecting the pregnant woman with a treatment made from donated plasma with a rare antibody.

Researchers scoured blood banks to see whose blood might contain this antibody, and found a donor in New South Wales: James Harrison.

Harrison continued donating almost every other week for more than 60 years, and his plasma has been used to make millions of Anti-D injections, according to the Red Cross. Because about 17 percent of pregnant women in Australia require the Anti-D injections, the blood service estimates Harrison has helped 2.4 million babies in the country.

On Friday, Harrison made his final trip to the blood donation center. At age 81, he had already passed the age limit allowed for donors, and the blood service had decided Harrison should stop donating to protect his health, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

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