Final donation for man whose blood helped save 2.4 million babies

Australian blood donor James Harrison has made his last blood donation having helped save the babies of more than two million Australian women

"He was a donor himself, so I said when I'm old enough, I'll become a blood donor". He's now donated his plasma more than 1,000 times, but no matter how many times he's given blood there's one thing that will never change: "Never once have I watched the needle go in my arm", he says. But this man from Australia has saved 2.4 million lives!

The breakthrough came when Australian scientists realised they could head off HDN by injecting Rh- mothers with low levels of donated RhD immunoglobulin.

"Rh" refers to the Rh factor- a protein on the surface of red blood cells.

"Every ampule of Anti-D ever made in Australia has James in it", said Robyn Barlow the Rh program coordinator who recruited Harrison, the program's first donor.

Harrison's blood is valuable because he naturally produces Rh-negative blood, which contains Rh-positive antibodies.

"Since the very first mother received her dose at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1967". He has saved millions of babies. "I didn't think about it any further, and then looking into it a bit more, I found out about James and how awesome he is and how many donations he's made, and that it was all because of him".

"In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn't know why, and it was terrible", explains Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.

"His kindness leaves a remarkable legacy", the Australian Red Cross said in a statement. After more than a decade of whole blood donations, his unique antibodies were discovered, and he switched over to donating plasma instead.

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Harrison's retirement is a blow to the Rh treatment program in Australia. It was his way of giving back after receiving his own life-saving transfusion.

"I hope it's a record that somebody breaks, because it will mean they are dedicated to the cause", Mr Harrison said of his last donation.

HDN still has the potential to affect one in six newborns in Australia.

Jemma Falkenmire, spokesperson for the Blood Service, said: "Every bag of blood is precious, but James' blood is particularly extraordinary". He retires with 1162 donations from his right arm and 10 from his left.

The antibody is used to make a lifesaving medication, Anti-D, as it is given to pregnant mothers whose blood is at risk of attacking and killing their unborn babies.

"I'd keep on going if they'd let me", Harrison said. Doctors had already extended the age limit for blood donations for him, and they're cutting him off now to protect his health. If a mother lacks a D antigen, she is Rh-negative, and this can create a problem if the fetus has the D antigen in its blood.

Beth Ismay had four Anti-D injections during her second pregnancy with daughter Layla. The anti-D doesn't pass to the fetus, however, keeping both mother and fetus safe. Only 160 donors support the program, and finding new donors has proven to be hard. Recruiting new donors is a laborious task. Additionally, attempts to create a synthetic version of anti-D have failed. The Blood Service recently started a three year research project to harvest Harrison's DNA and create a library of his monoclonals - the cocktail of antibodies and white blood cells that herald a promising new phase in the Anti-D program.

James, who has been nicknamed "the man with the golden arm" is thought to be one of around 50 people in Australia who carry the antibodies.

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