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‘Man With the Golden Arm’ Saves 2 Million Babies’ Lives Over 60 Years by Donating Blood

A man who needed multiple blood transfusions in a surgical procedure as a teenager made it his life’s goal to show his thanks by donating blood, himself. Now, 60 years later, James Harrison is being credited with saving the lives of 2 million babies with his blood. Harrison carries a rare antibody that can save Rh positive babies in utero when their mothers are Rh negative.

Giving pregnant women in this situation an infusion of blood plasma from people like Harrison helps prevent Haemolytic Disease of the Newborn, or HDN, which is caused by the conflicting blood types. SFGate said Harrison’s blood has been used to make millions of these “anti-D” injections.

Everyone has one of four blood types – A, B, AB or O – which is inherited from your parents, like your eye color. Your blood type is determined by the presence or absence of two antigens — A and B — on the surface of red blood cells. A third antigen, called Rh factor, will either be present or absent. Antigens are substances that may trigger an immune response, causing your body to launch an attack if it believes they are foreign.

Generally, Rh negative blood is given to Rh-negative patients while those with Rh positive blood receive Rh positive blood in transfusions.

Rh factor is generally tested during pregnancy, as an incompatibility between mother and fetus may cause the mother’s body to attack the baby’s “foreign” blood. (Rh immune globulin, aka the RhoGAM shot, is an effective treatment that can stop this attack if found early on.) This shot comes from people’s blood, like Harrison’s.

Did you know there are other reasons to give blood, though? For example, donating your blood a couple times a year is one of the only ways to easily manage high iron levels in your body. While iron is essential for life as it transports oxygen in your body, helps regulate cell growth, maintains brain function, metabolism and endocrine function and is involved in energy production and immune function, having too much of it can accelerate every major disease we know of, and can cause the pathologies associated with liver and cardiovascular disease.

Aside from getting a free “mini” physical prior to donation, repeated donations may help your blood to flow better, possibly helping to limit damage to the lining of your blood vessels, which should result in fewer arterial blockages. Plus, the pure altruism of the act of donating blood and knowing you are helping others by doing so can influence your overall feeling of well-being.
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