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'Man With The Golden Arm' Retires After Saving Over 2M Babies With Blood Donations: Who Is James Harrison?

May 14, 2018 07:09 AM EDT
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James Harrison is dubbed the Man With the Golden Arm for his countless contributions of his rare blood to save millions of babies across Australia. Now, the Man With the Golden Arm is retiring.
(Photo : Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images)

After 60 years of donating his rare blood almost every week, James Harrison — or the "Man With the Golden Arm" — finally gets to retire.

Harrison, 81, dedicated his life toward helping sick babies with his rare blood, donating over 1,100 times in six decades.

Harrison's Special Blood

According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, Harrison began his dedication to saving lives when he had to undergo chest surgery at the age of 14. Upon learning that strangers saved his life with their blood donations, he pledged to do his part as soon as he's able to.

When he turned 18, Harrison fulfilled his promise and began donating whole blood despite his aversion to needles.

It was eventually discovered that his blood contains precious antibodies needed to make Anti-D injections that combat rhesus disease. Upon learning this, Harrison switched to making blood plasma donations to help as many babies as possible.

Over the years, more than 3 million doses of Anti-D injections with Harrison's blood have been issued. Over 2 million babies have been saved.

Every batch of Anti-D from Australia came from his blood, spokesperson for the Blood Service Jemma Falkenmire says in CNN. With 17 percent of all women in the country at risk with the condition, Harrison's contributions are even more important.

"Australia owes a big thank you to James Harrison, Australia became the first country in the world to be self-sufficient in the supply of Anti-D, and cases of HDN are rare," Falkenmire explains in a recent statement. "Medications like Anti-D are a life giving intervention for thousands of Australian mums, but they are only available because men like James give blood."

Rhesus Disease And Anti-D

Rhesus disease occurs when pregnant women have rhesus-negative blood, while the babies in their wombs have rhesus-positive blood from the father. When this happens, a mother may produce antibodies to destroy her unborn child's "foreign" blood in her system, which could be fatal for the baby.

Australian Red Cross says that the injection is able to fight the Haemolytic Disease of the Newborn, which can riddle newborns with multiple effects including anaemia, enlarged liver and spleen, brain damage, heart failure, and even death.

In 2015, Falkenmire told CNN that thousands of babies were dying every year of the disease until 1967.

A Hero Takes His Bow

Harrison's contributions were truly a game-changer for the disease. As a result, he has deservedly become a national hero with multiple awards under his name, including the prestigious Medal of the Order of Australia.

For his part, the Man With the Golden Arm simply calls it something he can do.

"It becomes quite humbling when they say, 'oh you've done this or you've done that or you're a hero,'" Harrison tells CNN. "It's something I can do. It's one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor."

Now, he plans to continue to help the health industry by donating DNA samples for future research, according to AJC.

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