‘Man With the Golden Arm’ Who Gave Blood to 2.4 Million Babies Retires

May 12, 2018 Last Updated: May 16, 2018

“It’s a sad day for me. The end of a long run,” said James Harrison, who has donated blood for pregnant mothers to the Australian Red Cross Service for 60 years, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

After 1173 donations, the 81-year-old has finally hung up his blood bag.

At 14, Harrison made a pledge that he would donate blood when he turned 18 after a major chest surgery that required 13-liters (0.26 gal) of blood.

Soon after donating, he was found to have Rhesus-negative (Rh-) blood and Rhesus-positive (Rh+) antibodies. Harrison was dubbed “the man with the golden arm” for having unique properties associated with his blood plasma.

During pregnancy, if a mother has Rh- blood and her fetus has Rh+ blood, it can cause problems if their blood starts to mix. This is known as Rhesus disease.

When the mother’s Rh- blood mixes with Rh+ blood, the mother’s blood starts to develop an immunity to the Rh+ blood cells. After developing immunity, the mother’s antibodies will start attacking the baby’s blood the way an immune system attacks foreign invaders.

Her blood can then cross the placenta and attack the baby’s blood cells, thus causing the baby to have a shortage of blood. Thus resulting in serious illness, brain damage, or death.

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. This prevents the mother from developing an immunity from the baby’s blood.

So far, nobody has successfully created a synthetic version of Harrison’s blood plasma. Now the Australia Red Cross Blood Services have started a three-year research project using his DNA to try to develop a solution.