via the New York Times

Donating blood can be a noble action. You never know how many people you can help or save if you only give a little amount of your blood. This is a voluntary activity that thousands of people do all over the world, but there is a remarkable donor that spent six decades of his life donating blood periodically.

James Harrison, also known as the Man with the Golden Arm, is an Australian 84-year-old man who became one of the most special people in the modern medical community. Harrison’s blood contains an unusual plasma composition that helped to create a treatment for the Rhesus disease.

Rhesus disease is a rare isoimmunization condition that affects fetuses and newborn babies that have the uncommon Rh blood group. The baby would have the illness when the mother presents an Rh-D negative factor in her blood, while the father is Rh-D positive.

While the baby is forming in the womb, their mother’s immune system detects the baby’s blood cells as something odd so she develops other cells that would try to destroy those strange cells from the fetus, which causes them to develop an antigen. This hemolytic disease can be really dangerous and severe since it develops a series of problems regarding the immune system of the child that can even result in the death of the baby.

James Harrison started his blood donations in 1954 when he was 18-year-old. He got the idea four years earlier when he had complicated lung surgery and needed several blood transfusions from strangers. After this event, he felt like he had to retrieve the help he got and started to donate.

At that moment it was discovered that his blood presented oddly strong antibodies that can fight against the Rh-D group antigen, and the doctors asked him to be part of a medical tryout. With this great finding, it was possible to create a treatment for pregnant women whose babies would present the disease where they received a shot of James’ antibodies at the beginning and the end of the pregnancy.

When James found out about this, he decided to help by donating blood regularly every 18 days. This resulted in the fact that Harrison saved an average amount of 2.4 million babies through all of those years, including his daughter Tracey. He always used his right arm and funny enough he hated needles and he never saw how they extracted the blood, but that didn’t stop him from saving that amount of lives.

Harrison made his last donation in May of 2018, which became his 1,173rd donation. He only stopped because the Australian laws forbid anyone older than 81 years old to donate blood. Regardless, scientists were able to create the James in a Jar project, where they artificially created James’ antibodies so they could still be used.