Most people get a gold watch while they are retiring. So much more than James Harrison deserves.
Harrison, known as the "Man With the Golden Arm," has been giving blood for 60 years, almost every week. The 83-year-old Australian man "retired" in 2018, after all those donations. The event marked the conclusion of a chapter of monumentality.
However, Harrison went trending on Reddit again for his game-changing story. According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, he has helped save the lives of more than 2.4 million Australian babies.
First, a note about antibodies
Harrison's blood has unique, disease-fighting antibodies that have been used to produce an anti-D injection that helps combat rhesus disease.
This illness is a condition in which the blood of a pregnant woman actually starts attacking the blood cells of her unborn baby. This can cause brain damage, or death, to the babies in the worst situations.
It is for this reason:
The disease occurs when there is rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) in a pregnant woman. The baby in the womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive), inherited from the parent.
How Harrison made a difference
Harrison 's extraordinary gift of generosity, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service said, started when he underwent major chest surgery when he was just 14.
Donations of blood saved his life, and he decided to become a blood donor.
A few years later, physicians found that his blood contained the antibody that could be used to produce anti-D treatments. He turned to make donations of blood plasma to benefit as many patients as possible.
Doctors aren't entirely sure why Harrison has this unusual form of blood. After his surgery, they suspect it could be from the transfusions he got when he was 14. He's one of no more than 50 individuals believed to have the antibodies in Australia, the blood service says.
"Every bag of blood is precious, but James' blood is particularly extraordinary," Falkenmire told CNN. He added Harrison's blood is used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies.
According to Falkenmire, Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James' blood." James has helped save a lot of lives to more than 17 percent of women in Australia are at risk, Falkenmire added.
Why his donations were a game-changer
Anti-D, produced with antibodies from Harrison, protects women with rhesus-negative blood from producing RhD antibodies during pregnancy. Since 1967, more than three million do of Anti-D are issued to Australian mothers with negative blood types.
The Anti-D vaccine was also offered to Harrison's own daughter, which led to a healthy birth of his second grandson.
"And it makes you feel good that you have saved a life there and that you have saved a lot more and that is fantastic," Harrison told CNN.
Harrison's detection of antibodies was an absolute game-changer, Australian officials said.
Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, told CNN in 2015 there were literally thousands of babies dying each year in Australia, up until about 1967.
"Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage," Falkenmire said. She added Australia became the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody.