Imagine if you could save millions of children from potentially life-threatening conditions. Well, one man did. According to the Australian Red Cross, 2 million babies were saved with James Harrison’s donated blood. Actually, the figure is even higher. Harrison’s blood helped to save over 2.4 million babies!
So how did this man’s miracle blood save millions of kiddos? Harrison, now 81, has a special antibody in his blood. And it’s that antibody which is responsible for making a lifesaving med called Anti-D.
Anti-D is given to mothers who are Rh incompatible with their soon-to-be-born babies. Rh incompatibility happens when mama is Rh-negative and baby is Rh-positive. If you’re still thinking, “What?”, Rh factor is a protein that’s on red blood cells. Even though it’s inherited, baby doesn’t get their genetic makeup from mom alone. That means it’s possible for mom and baby to have different Rh types.
Even though mom and baby’s blood typically doesn’t mix, if it does during childbirth, the baby runs the risk of developing anemia. If the mother’s immune system kicks in, she can make antibodies against the fetal blood cells. Not only can this case anemia—but more specifically, the baby can develop a type of anemia that causes the rapid destruction of red blood cells.
When Harrison was a teenager he received a blood donation during chest surgery. After this life-saving event, he decided that he’d donate his own blood when he was old enough to do so. A decade down the road, the docs discovered his blood had the antibody necessary to make Anti-D. In the years since he’s donated more than 1,100 times. Now that he’s 81, Harrison has made his last donation. But his legacy will live on in the lives of the babies that he’s saved!
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