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.
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.