Blood donations by a former Junee man have saved the lives of as many as 2.4 million Australia babies.
James Harrison, who is now nicknamed the Man with the Golden Arm, has made an astonishing 1172 donations of blood plasma, which have been turned into a life-saving antibody injection.
He has been donating blood for 62 years.
But at the age of 81, Mr Harrison will, next Friday, make his last donation. Usually blood donors retire at the age of 80, but Mr Harrison has been able to continue past that age.
“It’s been a long run, and I have to admit I’m a little bit sad that it’s time to give up,” he said.
What makes Mr Harrison’s blood so special is that it contains consistently high levels of antibodies which make it particularly valuable in making anti-D immunoglobulin injections.
Among those mothers who have had the injection is Mr Harrison’s own daughter, Tracey, during her second pregnancy.
The anti-D program celebrated its 50th anniversary in Australia last year and Mr Harrison, who began donating blood at the age of 18, is one of its pioneers.
At one time, his blood was considered so valuable, Mr Harrison’s life was insured for $1 million.
Mr Harrison made up his mind to begin donating blood after he underwent major chest surgery at the age of 14.
During the surgery, Mr Harrison required 13 litres of transfused blood and spent three months recovering in hospital.
It was during this recovery, the then-teenager made up his mind to give back by donating blood.
Despite an aversion to needles, he turned 18 – the minimum age for donations – and rolled up his sleeve, way back in 1954.
Mr Harrison had begun donating whole blood before it was discovered his blood contained the rare combination of RhD-negative blood and anti-D antibodies, and his donations became even more vital.
He joined the anti-D program in 1966.
About 17 per cent of all pregnant women now need an anti-D booster shot to protect their babies against Rhesus disease, and until very recently, every batch made in Australia contained Mr Harrison's antibodies.
As he was giving only plasma, Mr Harrison could make fortnightly donations. For more than 50 years, he rarely missed a two-weekly visit to the blood bank.
“Sometimes I was away on holidays, but I tried to get there every fortnight,” the Central Coast resident said.
Mr Harrison’s late wife Barbara, who also grew up in Junee, was a regular blood donor too. Before her death in 2005, Mrs Harrison had begun receiving injections which would encourage her body to create the necessary antu-D antibodies.
Mr Harrison chalked up 1000 donations in 2011 and has been awarded an OAM for his efforts. He has also been nominated for Australian of the Year.
Incredibly, all but about a dozen of Mr Harrison’s donations have come from his right arm, as “it hurts” coming from his left one.
The enormity of being told he has saved the lives of 2.4 million babies around Australia – including right here in the Riverina – is something Mr Harrison says he struggles to put into perspective.
It is, he said, much easier to see the results when he looks at his second grandson Scott – whose life was saved by anti-D injections made from antibodies in Mr Harrison’s blood plasma and given to his daughter Tracey during and after her pregnancy.
A flurry of publicity that surrounded Mr Harrison’s 1000th donation meant people in the street occasionally recognise him.
He has had mothers approach him on the street, to say thank you and and share their experiences with the anti-D injections, and to introduce their children.
“I had a woman tell me once that’s she’d had seven children because of the injections,” he said.
Mr Harrison’s effort has earned a place in the Guinness Books of Records, but he jokes that it is a record he would love to see broken.
“I’ve said it’s a record I would like to see broken, because that means someone has made more than 1000 donations,” he said.
Almost a fifth of Australian women who become pregnant need anti-D injections to keep their babies healthy.
Every single injection is made from donated plasma, and in the 50 years of the anti-D program in Australia, there have been only about 520 donors.
Currently, there are about 200 nationwide.
Australia was the first country in the world to start a donor program to obtain anti-D as well as the first to administer it to pregnant women.
These injections prevent Rh(D) negative women from developing potentially harmful antibodies during pregnancy with an Rh(D) positive baby. Without it, their next Rh(D) positive baby could suffer from haemolytic disease of the foetus and newborn (HDFN), which can be fatal.
HDFN is a disease in which a mother's body creates an antibody that destroys her unborn child's red blood cells. It can cause severe spleen and liver problems, brain damage, and death in babies.
The Red Cross is always seeking new blood donors, and can be contacted on 131 495 or at www.donateblood.com.au