Eight Real-Life Heroes Who Literally Saved The World

Published December 22, 2018
Updated May 30, 2019

James Harrison

James Harrison

The IndependentJames Harrison, who donated blood each week for almost 60 years.

Australian James Harrison, like Henrietta Lacks, was given the power to save the world by chance – but it was his decision about what to do with his power that made him a real-life hero.

James Harrison began donating blood at the age of 18 never knowing that he was doing something remarkable. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s, years after he’d begun donating, that Harrison’s doctors realized that his blood was something special.

It contained an unusual antibody that could be used to prevent a rare and potentially fatal blood condition in babies known as rhesus disease or hemolytic disease of the newborn.

When mothers with Rh-negative blood carry babies with Rh-positive blood, the mother’s body responds to the baby’s blood as a foreign threat. While the mothers don’t suffer, the disease can kill the babies or cause them to be born with anemia or jaundice.

James Harrison gives his final blood donation and recalls his first.

However, when the mothers are injected with a drug known as Anti-D, the problem is treated and the babies are born healthy. Anti-D is only possible because of people like Harrison, who have a specific combination of RhD-negative blood and Rh+ antibodies.

In short, Harrison’s blood is a lifesaver. After being alerted to this, Harrison stepped up and from the mid-1960s until 2018, Harrison donated blood once a week, every week, resulting in a whopping 1,173 blood donations.

He was nicknamed “the man with the golden arm” and doctors estimate that since all three million doses of Anti-D have his blood in it, he’s saved over 2.4 million babies.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.