James Harrison's blood contains an antibody that is made into a vaccine that has saved countless children.
James Harrison had one of his lungs removed at the age of 14. His operation was a success even though James had lost a lot of blood. When he learned he was alive thanks to unknown blood donors around Australia, James set out to donate blood himself.
James had to wait until he was 18 to be legally allowed to start donating. Soon, doctors noticed something special about James' blood. There was a very rare antibody—possibly the result of the numerous transfusions—flowing through James that had the potential to save the lives of unborn children.
Rhesus disease is a condition that occurs in pregnancy in which the mother's blood cells attack the blood cells of the fetus. The child's blood cells are treated like foreign bodies and infection by the mother's body. The worst cases of rhesus disease result in death or brain damage for the unborn child. The antibody in James' blood was turned into a vaccine called Anti-D that prevents the production of the attacking antibodies. In Australia, it's estimated that 17% of women are at risk for rhesus disease.
James is now 78 and has donated blood plasma over 1,100 times. His blood is in all of the Anti-D vaccines in Australia, and is responsible for saving lives elsewhere around the world. James claims he's never once watched the needles go in, saying "I can't stand the sight of blood, and I can't stand pain." I mean, what a guy. Every week for decades and he hates it, but someone has to save the babies!
Jemma Falkenmire of the Australia Red Cross Blood Service describes just how important James' donations have been:
"I think James is irreplaceable for us. I don't think anyone will be able to do what he's done, but certainly we do need people to step into his shoes. He will have to retire in the next couple years, and I guess for us the hope is there will be people who will donate, who will also ... have this antibody and become life savers in the same way he has, and all we can do is hope there will be people out there generous enough to do it, and selflessly in the way he's done."
In Australia, you can donate blood until age 81. James continues to donate as much as he can. He has won countless awards for his heroism, but James remains humble, telling CNN that donating his precious blood is "...what I can do. It is my talent. It might be my only talent." This guy has a good head on his shoulders, because I'd be bragging about my special baby-saving blood at parties and work meetings and church and in line at Trader Joe's. I would tell everyone.