Watch CBS News

Man who helped save more than 2 million babies gives final blood donation

James Harrison has donated blood for 60 years, but unlike most donors, his blood contains a precious antibody that is used to make a lifesaving medication called Anti-D. The medicine is given to mothers whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies.

The 81-year-old, affectionately called the "man with the golden arm," has helped save the babies of more than 2 million women, according to the Australian Red Cross. Harrison has donated blood more than 1,100 times. On Friday, he made his final donation, having reached the maximum age allowed for donors in Australia.

"I hope it's a record that somebody breaks, because it will mean they are dedicated to the cause," Harrison said in a statement.

James Harrison has donated blood more than 1,100 times. Australian Red Cross

When he was 14 years old, Harrison underwent major surgery and depended on blood transfusions to save his life. Despite his aversion to needles, he pledged to donate as soon as he was old enough and four years later, he kept his promise.

About a decade later, doctors discovered that Harrison's blood contained an important antibody needed to make Anti-D immunoglobin, an injection that helps fight against rhesus disease. That's a dangerous condition that develops when a woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and has a baby in her womb with RhD positive blood.  

The Anti-D injections work by preventing the woman's body from developing potentially harmful antibodies during pregnancy that could affect her next pregnancy. Without the injections, the next baby could suffer from hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn, known as HDN or HDFN, which can be fatal.

In 1999, Harrison received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his ongoing support of the Blood Service and Anti-D program. 

"His kindness leaves a remarkable legacy," the Australian Red Cross said in a statement.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.