James Harrison, also known as the Man with the golden arm, is a blood plasma donor from Australia whose unusual plasma composition has been used to make a treatment for Rhesus disease. He has made over 1000 donations throughout his lifetime, and these donations are estimated to have saved over two million unborn babies from the condition.
James Harrison was born on 27 December 1936. At the age of 14, he underwent major chest surgery, requiring 13 litres (2.9 imp gal; 3.4 US gal) of blood. After surgery, he was in the hospital for three months. Realizing the blood had saved his life, he made a pledge to start donating blood as soon as he turned eighteen, the then-required age.
Harrison started donating in 1954 and after the first few donations it was discovered that his blood contained an unusually 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 to prevent the creation of antibodies to the blood of a Rh(D) positive child. This antigen sensitization and subsequent incompatibility phenomenon causes Rhesus disease, the most common form of hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN).
Through the donations of his plasma, 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 have since been given as treatment to one in ten pregnant women whose blood could potentially become incompatible with that of their children.
As blood plasma, in contrast to blood, can be donated as often as every 2–3 weeks, he was able to reach his 1000th donation in May 2011. This results in an average of one donation every three weeks during 57 years. Commenting on his record, he said:
I could say it’s the only record that I hope is broken, because if they do, they have donated a thousand donations.
His donations were estimated to have helped save over 2.4 million babies with pregnant women being treated with his antibodies, including his own daughter Tracey.
In 2007, Harrison was critical of plans to open up Australia’s plasma donation to foreign corporations. He believes that opening up the trade will discourage volunteers from donations. This opening of trade stemmed from a review of the country’s free trade agreement with the United States.
Harrison has received an Order of Australia medal (OAM). He was nominated for Australian of the Year, though he did not win. In 2011, he was nominated in the New South Wales Local Hero division of the Australian of the Year awards.