Did you know that after needing 13 liters of blood for a surgery at the age of 13, a man named James Harrison pledged to donate blood once he turned 18. It was discovered that his blood contained a rare antigen which cured Rhesus disease. He has donated blood a record 1,000 times and saved 2,000,000 lives.
James Harrison was born in 1936. At the age of 13, he underwent a major chest surgery to extract a lung with metastasised pneumonia, and required 12 litres of blood. After surgery, he was in the hospital for three months. Realising the blood had saved his life, he made a pledge to start donating blood as soon as he turned eighteen, the then required age.
Mr. Harrison started donating in 1954 and after the first few donations it was discovered that his blood contained an abnormally strong and persistent antibody called Rho(D) Immune Globulin. Rho(D) IG is given to Rh(D) negative mothers of unknown or Rh(D) positive babies during and after pregnancy which prevents her from creating antibodies to the blood of a Rh(D) positive child. This antigen sensitization and subsequent incompatibility phenomenon is called Rhesus disease, a form of the hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN).
Through the donations of his plasma, Mr. Harrison helped prevent thousands of born and unborn children from dying of HDN. This uniqueness was considered so important, that his life was insured for one million dollars after this discovery and the following research based on his donations created the commercial Anti-D immune globulin commonly known as RhoGAM. His blood plasma derivatives has since been given as treatment to one in ten pregnant women whose blood is not compatible with that of their children.