After 60 years of saving lives, James Harrison is finally retiring from his position as “the man with the golden arm.”
The affectionate nickname comes from homage to the Australian senior’s astonishing blood donor track record and the game-changing effect that his donations have had on his country.
Because of a rare antibody that is found in Harrison’s blood, his donations have directly contributed to saving over 2.4 million Australian babies.
Harrison, now 81 years old, didn’t always know that his blood literally had the power to save lives. When he was 14 years old, he had to undergo chest surgery and the resulting blood transfusion saved his life – so he vowed to become a donor once he turned 18 (even though he was afraid of needles.)
After a few years of donating, doctors were shocked to find that his blood contained an antibody that directly neutralizes rhesus disease: a dangerous condition in which a pregnant woman’s blood attacks her unborn child.
According to Jemma Falkenmire of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, more than 17% of Australian women are at risk of developing the condition.
“In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn’t know why, and it was awful. Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage,” she told CNN in a 2015 interview.