On May 11, 81-year-old Australian James Harrison for the last time in his life donated blood. He did this for 60 years and was the first and most famous participant in the national program to help mothers with a negative Rh factor and their children.
James Harrison was born on December 27, 1936.
At the age of 14, he underwent a serious operation on the chest and urgently needed about 13 liters of donor blood. After the operation, he was in the hospital for three months. Realizing that donor blood saved his life, he promised to start donating blood as soon as he turns 18 (the minimum age of donation under Australian law).
“I do not even know how many people that I did not know saved my life,” Harrison recalled.
Harrison began to donate blood in 1954.
In the 1960s, Australian doctors began to look for ways to defeat the high mortality rate of infants in the country.
“Up until 1967, thousands of babies died every year in Australia, and no one could understand why,” said the representative of the Australian Red Cross, Gemma Falkenmire. “Women had repeated miscarriages, children were born with brain injuries.”
Doctors came to the conclusion that the reason lies in the negative Rhesus factor – the absence of antigen D in the blood of some women. In pregnancy, they may experience a rhesus-conflict with the fetus, whose Rh factor is positive: in the body, women begin to develop antibodies that try to destroy the “hostile” blood cells of the fetus.
As scientists later found out, the disease can be prevented by injecting an antiresusive immunoglobulin, which is released from the human blood plasma.
They began to look for a suitable donor in blood banks and found Harrison.
By this time he had been a blood donor for ten years already . He was offered to become a participant in the experimental program for the development of treatment – and he immediately agreed.
Soon it turned out that his blood contains unusually strong and resistant antibodies to the antigen of the Rhesus factor. The blood of Harrison was so unique that his life was insured for one million dollars.
“I was asked to be a guinea pig, and since then I’ve been giving blood all the time,” he recalls.
The first injection of an antiresusive immunoglobulin, created from the blood of James Harrison, was made to a pregnant woman in 1967.
Program Coordinator Robin Barlow says that every ampule produced in Australia has a “part of James.”
“He saved millions of children. I’m crying from one thought, “Barlow acknowledges.
In total, about 200 donors took part in this program in Australia – only this number of people managed to detect the necessary antibodies in the blood.
In the press, James Harrison was nicknamed “a man with a golden arm,” but he does not consider himself a hero.
“Perhaps donating blood is my only talent,” he said in an interview with CNN.
Harrison also said that he was actually afraid of injections and every time he took blood, he looks away.
During his life he donated blood 1173 times , and from his plasma produced about three million doses of the drug .
Injection of an antiresusive immunoglobulin was required even by his own daughter in 1992.
“Thanks to my father, I was able to give birth to another healthy boy. Thank you for giving me the chance to have two healthy sons – your grandchildren, “she said.
In 1999, James Harrison was awarded the Order of Australia , and four years later he entered the Guinness Book of Records as the person who gave the most blood .
On May 11, 2018, he surrendered his blood for the last time in his life : after 80 years in Australia it is already forbidden to do this, but the doctors made an exception for the honorable donor.
“I hope that someone will beat my record,” Harrison said. “It’s all for a good cause.”