Curious Parents

How One Man's Blood Saved 2 Million Babies

When he was 14, James Harrison had a serious operation. Doctors removed one of his lungs and gave him a transfusion that required nearly 2 gallons of donated blood. From the moment he recovered, Harrison knew that he wanted to give back for the generosity he received, so at 18, he started donating blood and plasma as often as possible. This was the 1950s, the same time that doctors were searching for a way to counteract a potentially fatal condition known as rhesus disease, or Rh incompatibility. This condition occurs when a pregnant woman with Rh-negative blood develops antibodies that attack her Rh-positive fetus. It turned out that Harrison's blood carried a rare antibody that could stop Rh incompatibility in its tracks. Scientists were able to use Harrison's plasma to create the anti-D injection, which, to this day, is given to the roughly 17% of Australian women at risk for this condition. Harrison has continued to donate blood and plasma roughly every 3 weeks for more than 60 years, earning himself a 2003 Guinness World Record for the most blood donated by one person.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Australian man James Harrison's blood has been used to develop an injection that has saved the lives of an estimated 2 million babies from rhesus disease. 00:12

  2. Rhesus disease occurs when a woman with rhesus-negative blood is pregnant with a fetus with rhesus-positive blood. The woman's body produces antibodies to destroy the fetus's red blood cells. 00:24

  3. James Harrison had an unusual antibody in his blood that was used to create an injection that can prevent pregnant women's bodies from creating the antibodies that attack a fetus's red blood cells. 00:41

Written by Curiosity Staff May 19, 2016

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