There is a man in Sydney, Australia who holds the Guinness World Record for making the largest number of blood donations. His name is James Harrison and I’ll tell you why each one of us must aspire to be like him.
The seed was sown when he had to undergo a major heart surgery at the tender age of 14. Upon realizing that another person’s blood was the only reason he was saved, he decided to start donating blood himself, as soon as he possibly could (Australia rules that donors must be at least 18 years of age).
And start donating, he did. Not once in six months or whenever he felt like purging his soul of sins committed by doing a good deed. James Harrison donated blood once every three weeks. For more than 60 years. Until he turned 81 years old when the Australian Red Cross Blood Service ruled that he must not do it anymore. In May of this year, when he turned 81, he told the media that it was the end of a long run. He also remarked that if the choice were up to him, he would have gone on donating.
Harrison’s deed ended up saving the lives of 2.4 million babies. Rh or Rhesus is a protein present on the surface of red blood cells (RBCs). Those who have the Rh factor in their blood are said to be Rh-positive, and those don’t are called Rh-negative. If an Rh-negative mother conceives an Rh-negative baby, her body produces antibodies which kill the foreign Rh-positive cells of the baby. While this doesn’t present much of a problem during the first pregnancy, it could result in a condition known as hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) in the second baby and could even be fatal.
The only solution is to inject RhD immunoglobin (anti-D), into the pregnant woman to prevent her body from producing the antibodies. Harrison’s blood is of a rare kind in that his blood plasma contains antibodies which are used to prepare the anti-D vaccines. Which makes his contribution invaluable.
Donating blood has undeniable advantages for the donor, as well. It is good for the heart, lowers cancer risk, helps in blood purification and justifies skipping a workout. If all this isn’t good enough, what about the fact that every two seconds, someone in the US needs blood? Or that India suffers from a deficit of two million units of blood since only 1% of the whole population donate every year?
The man with the golden arm, as Harrison is popularly called, completed his 1,173rd donation in May. Perhaps it will serve as an inspiration for many to start with their first.
James Harrison’s story made me think. I had always been an ardent admirer of tattoos. Until last night, I was even ready to get myself inked. But then I realized that just like Harrison, I, too, was in a unique position to save lives. I am among 1% of the world’s population whose blood group is AB-, the rarest in the world. And so, as my own small tribute to James Harrison and Cristiano Ronaldo, I took an oath never to get a tattoo until I can no longer donate blood.
I would love to hear about the resolutions that this story may have inspired. If you have a promise to share, let me know by commenting below or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.