Sydney man retires his ‘golden arm’

After 62 years and 1173 donations, James Harrison has given his rare blood for the last time
golden arm James Harrison set the Guinness record for most blood donated by one person on May 19, 2003. On May 11, 2018, he gave his last donation. (Australian Red Cross Blood Service)

Once you reach the right age, giving blood is one of the most selfless ways to help another person. In about ten minutes, you can donate 500mL (about 2 cups) worth of your own blood. While your own body will replace that blood in a few hours, what was given is stored for a moment when it can literally be used to save the life of someone else.

All in all, it's a pretty great way to spend your time. No one knows this better than James Harrison, a.k.a. The Man with the Golden Arm.

This 81 year-old man from Sydney has been giving blood once every two weeks for 62 years. Over that span, he has donated 1173 times—that's at least 586 litres of blood. We'll stop short of telling you how many bathtubs that would fill ... suffice to say it's more than one.

But now, because of age restrictions for blood donation, James is retiring. It makes one wonder: how many lives did this wonderful man save over his lifetime of giving?

Would you believe over two million?

The power of anti-D

golden arm

One donation of James' blood is turned into dozens of anti-D injections for mothers in need. (Australian Red Cross Blood Service)

Okay, the above number is only an estimation. But James turned his own rare blood condition into an opportunity to save the lives of countless babies. How? Let's look.

Every human belongs to one of eight blood type groups. They are:

  • A RhD positive (A+)
  • A RhD negative (A-)
  • B RhD positive (B+)
  • B RhD negative (B-)
  • O RhD positive (O+)
  • O RhD negative (O-)
  • AB RhD positive (AB+)
  • AB RhD negative (AB-)

When a mother in a negative (-) blood group has a partner in a positive (+) blood group, their first child is usually born without problems. However, when the same couple tries to have a second child, the mother's blood attacks the fetus, preventing birth. For years, couples with these specific blood types couldn't have a second child. Then doctors discovered an antibody that helped the situation: anti-D.

When this was injected into the mother, a healthy second baby was born with no issues. As was a third. And a fourth (you get the idea...). Unfortunately, humans with anti-D are rare. Can you guess someone who has it, though?

Yep. Mr. Golden Arm, himself!

Rare gift, rare giver

James' blood had anti-D in it right from birth. When he was asked in 1966 if he would take part in a new program to create anti-D, he said yes. 1173 donations later, his lifetime of service helping others has come to an end. And according to experts, there are over two million people on Earth who owe him their lives. Wow!

How does he feel about this? "It feels good because my life was saved by blood transfusions," he told CBC radio. "I'm doing what I can. It costs nothing—a bit of time—and the thanks you get sort of makes you shiver."

And did we mention that he did all of this even though he is afraid of needles?

"I've never once watched the needle go into my arm," he said. Watch James and his golden arm make a final donation in the video below.

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  1. Amazing ! What a way to save unborn babies. I am totally terrified of needles too and I have had an epen injection twice.

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