What if you were told that your blood contained a rare antibody capable of saving lives? That is exactly what happened to James Harrison of Australia more than fifty years ago.
Before 1967, thousands of Australian babies died in the womb or outside of it because of a fatal blood condition called Rhesus disease. Women would often miscarry, or their babies were be born with fatal brain damage that limited their survival. Doctors weren’t able to discover a cure until James Harrison came along.
Seventy-eight year old James Harrison’s blood contains an antibody that prevents Rhesus Disease. His blood’s special properties were discovered when he was a teenager and donated blood for the first time. Soon after, scientists created an injection called Anti-D, and the medication has saved millions of lives.
“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary,” says Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, in a CNN article. “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.”
Only fifty people in Australia are known to contain this rare antibody in their blood. How many times had Harrison donated blood plasma? Over 1,000 times! But there’s more: One of the babies saved with Anti-D was Harrison’s own grandson.