Sunday, 21 October, 2018

Final donation for man whose blood helped save 2.4 million babies

James Harrison's blood plasma contains an antibody that stops babies dying from Rhesus disease a form of severe anaemia James Harrison's blood plasma contains an antibody that stops babies dying from Rhesus disease a form of severe anaemia
Melissa Porter | 13 May, 2018, 11:44

When Mr Harrison started donating, his blood was deemed so special that his life was insured for one million Australian dollars.

Harrison's naturally produced Rh+ antibodies can be used to intercept the baby's Rh+ blood cells from ever coming into contact with the mother's blood.

Each week, the "man with the golden arm", as people call the 81-year-old, has donated 500-800ml of blood plasma.

Rhesus D Hemolytic disease is described as a condition in which the molecules in a pregnant woman's blood could kill her baby.

Anti-D prevents Haemolytic Disease of the Newborn (HDN), which can cause anaemia, enlarged liver and spleen, brain damage, heart failure, and death, in newborns.

The condition develops when a pregnant woman has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive), inherited from its father.

He made his final donation surrounded by some of the mothers and babies his blood helped save.

Jemma Falkenmire, spokesperson for the Blood Service, said: 'Australia owes a big thank you to James Harrison.

If sensitisation occurs, the next time the woman is exposed to RhD positive blood her body will produce antibodies immediately. Scientists are collecting and cataloging his DNA to create a library of antibodies and white blood cells that could be the future of the anti-D program in Australia. The mother's body treats the blood of the fetus as a foreign invader and attacks with antibodies.

"I'd keep going if they let me", Harrison told the Herald. "It's one of my talents, probably my only talent, is that I can be a blood donor".

But he has already surpassed the donor age limit and the Blood Service made decision to protect his health.

'Medications like Anti-D are a life-giving intervention for thousands of Australian mums, but they are only available because men like James give blood'.

Sensitisation happens when a woman with RhD negative blood is exposed to RhD positive blood, usually during a pregnancy with an RhD positive baby. His mother, Kristy Pastor, first received the Anti-D injection during her second pregnancy.

The discovery of Harrison's antibodies was an absolute game changer, Australian officials said. More than three million does of Anti-D have been issued to Australian mothers with negative blood types since 1967. "He will have to retire in the next couple years, and I guess for us the hope is there will be people who will donate, who will also. have this antibody and become life savers in the same way he has, and all we can do is hope there will be people out there generous enough to do it, and selflessly in the way he's done".

The 81-year-old Australian has donated more than 1,100 times since turning 21.

That would be more than two million lives, according to the blood service, and for that Harrison is considered a national hero in Australia. "I can't stand the sight of blood, and I can't stand pain".