"They asked me to be a guinea pig, and I’ve been donating ever since"
May 14, 2018 9:27 AM   Subscribe

On Friday, Harrison made his final trip to the blood donation center. At age 81, he had already passed the age limit allowed for donors, and the blood service had decided Harrison should stop donating to protect his health, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. For six decades, ‘the man with the golden arm’ donated blood — and saved 2.4 million babies. (non-paywalled link here)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (40 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
.....aww man it's dusty in here.
posted by lalochezia at 9:31 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Classy. Well done.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:33 AM on May 14


Great story! Harrison previously on MeFi.
posted by TedW at 9:41 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Amazing!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:47 AM on May 14


Real-life superpower!
posted by Hypatia at 9:48 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Thanks, TedW! I forgot to check.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:51 AM on May 14


I am in US but benefitted from the same type of program here and have 2 healthy children because of it. For him to be so humble after such a contribution to humankind might be even more rare than his blood.
posted by domino at 10:19 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


One doesn't have to have superpowered blood for people to benefit, either. If you're eligible, please donate. If you donate, ask if you can donate platelets (a longer process, but one that produces an essential and lifesaving product). And sign up for the marrow donor registry.

When we look for the helpers, sometimes the helpers can be us.
posted by Gelatin at 10:48 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


When I found out about donating platelets -- which you can do like every ten days or so -- I switched away from donating whole blood. It helped that I had good platelet counts, but I think just being willing to sit still for 90 minutes was the chief qualification. (Now they won't take any of my blood products: juuuust enough time spent in Europe that I'm presumed at risk for BSE/prion diseases.)

But this guy, he's my damn hero!

Everyone who is healthy, please roll up your sleeves and get tapped in Mr. Harrison's honor.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:52 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


Wow! I was recently pregnant, and ended up having a lot of testing after my baby had long-lasting jaundice and borderline anemia, so I heard about the importance of blood compatibility and RhoGAM. I had no idea it was produced with donor blood! Amazing to think of the number he has influenced both by being a part of the research and then by continuing to donate so the products could be made.
posted by sometamegazelle at 11:05 AM on May 14


When I found out about donating platelets.....

My little one had about 35 platelet transfusions (and about 25 rd blood cell ones) during her chemo ...... I understand each platelet transfusion came from about 5-10 different donors. So around 200 people donated to this one little kid!

So thanks wennesvedt, and others like you. (I too can't donate because of a few years of BSE-ridden cornish pasties, which is frustrating.)
posted by Rumple at 11:21 AM on May 14 [9 favorites]


This is just stunning. I can't even wrap my brain around it. He's like -- and I don't mean this to sound flip -- the inverse of Pol Pot.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:28 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


Well, that made my day. My youngest sister suffered from HDN at birth. She wasn't in Australia, but she benefited from one of Harrison's counterparts here in US. Made it dusty in here, too.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:32 AM on May 14


wow. its so amazing to think that his own transfusion may have been what gave his blood such unique qualities. and he spent his whole life paying back the generosity that saved him, by saving so many others. incredible!
posted by supermedusa at 11:43 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Amazingly, there are some social media personalities who advocate against Rhogam.
posted by yarly at 11:43 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


That's an astonishing story.

I wonder if he ever felt pressure (self-pressure, not necessarily outside pressure) to make particular life choices as a result of this? Like, if I was able to save millions of babies, maybe I wouldn't want to take up skydiving, you know?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:59 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


At least once a week I wish I could donate blood, because I certainly would!
Unfortunately, I was stationed in the UK from 1983 to 1986, so evidently there's a chance I could have Mad Cow disease, which is ridiculous because I am nice, and have never been told I look like a bovine.

I think I have Nice Human disease, which is what this gentleman DEFINITELY has.
Thank you to everyone who does donate.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:09 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


At least once a week I wish I could donate blood, because I certainly would!
Unfortunately, I was stationed in the UK from 1983 to 1986, so evidently there's a chance I could have Mad Cow disease, which is ridiculous because I am nice, and have never been told I look like a bovine.


Yeah, I was once given medication that was sourced from bovine glands, so I'm also in the Can't Prove I'm Not A Mad Cow Club. It's a bummer.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:06 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I guess I missed something. Where I live, IL in the USA, I can only give blood every 8 weeks. How was this gentleman able to give so frequently? Even if you are only donating specific components, like platelets, I don't think the minimum duration between donations is anywhere near a week.
posted by hwestiii at 1:23 PM on May 14


I too needed rhogam shots and now have two beautiful kids. I had no idea it was sourced from blood donations- I never thought to ask. What an amazing and generous human being. Thanks for sharing!
posted by john_snow at 1:24 PM on May 14


Story is that I was an Rh baby. I'm from Texas, so a bit of a ways from Mr. Harrison. Thank you, Sir.
posted by Qex Rodriguez at 1:26 PM on May 14


How was this gentleman able to give so frequently?

From the Red Cross platelet donation FAQ:
How often can I donate platelets?

Platelets may be donated every seven days, up to 24 times a year. Imagine if every platelet donor gave at least 10 times a year and the impact it would have!
Platelet donation is done via apheresis, so it doesn't significantly decrease the donor's total blood volume, unlike whole blood donation.
posted by Lexica at 2:18 PM on May 14


My great-grandmother had two babies who died shortly after birth and who knows how many miscarriages because of Rh disease, and my grandmother -- her only surviving child -- also had several miscarriages (my Rh+ mother was the eldest so she sneaked through; her two younger siblings were both Rh-). I guess she just missed the window when they started treating it since her kids were all born late '40s through the '50s.

It blows my mind that this just kind of a solved problem now. Also that anyone is pulling anti-vaxxer nonsense about it -- what the HECK people.
posted by little cow make small moo at 4:14 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Typical Marvel hero. Has an oddball power with a cool scientific origin story, where all the pieces barely fall into place due to sublime coincidence, and with humble acts of unshakable will and self-sacrifice and dogged consistency, goes on to save TWO AND A HALF MILLION INFANTS FROM PAINFUL DEATH.

"AVENGERS! ASSEMBLE! Iron Man, you take on the badguys with tech by matching it with superior tech and clever tactics! Hulk, we need you to destroy something huge and dangerous with your unstoppable strength! Golden Arm, you go save MILLIONS OF BABIES by donating blood like a machine! Your resilient veins are their only hope!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:35 PM on May 14 [12 favorites]


I have felt a similar compulsion to donate blood after being saved by several transfusions when I had malaria the first time; unfortunately I keep getting malaria right before I become eligible to donate blood. Right now, I'm holding out for July 2020! Cross your fingers for me.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:56 PM on May 14 [10 favorites]


Also a member of the Might Have Mad Cow club. I miss donating! It made me feel so good about myself and others who were doing it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:20 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


So can someone explain this...17% of Australian babies have this? And before treatment the baby would just die? Is that right? So there was a time when 17% of Australian babies died just of this? Presumably the Australian rate is unusually high (I hope), why is that? And what's going to happen to all those babies now if the antibody is so rare that this is the only guy in Australia donating it?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:11 PM on May 14


Fascinating from an evolutionary perspective.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:12 PM on May 14


And what's going to happen to all those babies now if the antibody is so rare that this is the only guy in Australia donating it?

The article mentions near the end that Australia has about 200 donors for the Anti-D program but more are hard to find.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:17 PM on May 14


> 17% of Australian babies have this?

Not quite; 17% of Australian babies are *potentially* affected by this.

From https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/fifty-years-two-million-babies-australias-role-in-a-remarkable-medical-success-story-20170906-gybtk2.html:
HDN derives, bizarrely, from a basic biological fact: blood group. About 17 per cent of Australia's population has Rh(D)- blood: O-, A-, B- or AB-. The rest are Rh+. Generally speaking, Rh- women are no different from anyone else – except during pregnancy. If an Rh- woman is carrying an Rh+ child, and that child passes blood cells to the mother in utero (as happens in almost every pregnancy), a potentially catastrophic reaction takes place in the mother's body. Her system responds as if her baby's blood cells are a foreign bacteria or virus, and she begins producing antibodies that destroy them.

This first Rh+ baby is often unaffected, because the antibodies don't develop in time to do significant harm. But the mother's body retains them for life, a condition known as "sensitisation". And once she's sensitised, in any subsequent pregnancy, if the new foetus is also Rh+, the mother's antibodies will multiply and eradicate that new baby's red blood cells too. The effect on babies varies dramatically between women and between pregnancies. But for most women, their response grows more powerful with each Rh+ pregnancy, which means the damage to their babies becomes more severe, too.
Numbers in other countries are dependent on the exact distribution of blood types, though likely similar.
posted by nnethercote at 8:39 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


This guy gave plasma every week, several of the stories I read said.

I just gave whole blood this past weekend and here in NYC, at least, the guidelines are: You can safely donate your whole blood every 8 weeks, automated red cells every 16 weeks, platelets every 3 days up to 24 times each year, and plasma every 28 days.

Why is it different in Australia, I wonder.
posted by old_growler at 9:02 PM on May 14


Wow. I’m another rh- mom whose children benefited from Rhogam. I had no idea what’re it came from either.
posted by tamitang at 2:18 AM on May 15


This guy gave plasma every week, several of the stories I read said.

I just gave whole blood this past weekend and here in NYC, at least, the guidelines are: You can safely donate your whole blood every 8 weeks, automated red cells every 16 weeks, platelets every 3 days up to 24 times each year, and plasma every 28 days.

Why is it different in Australia, I wonder.


I believe it's 2-3 weeks for plasma in Australia and 12 weeks for whole blood donations. I have no idea why it is so different.
posted by liquorice at 2:40 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I donated when I was younger but since I became sexually active Australia says I can't donate anymore. Even if I showed up with a clean STI test, as I understand.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:54 AM on May 15


Because of my previous partner's sexual history I've been ineligible to donate for the past 12 years. This article just reminded me that I'm finally able to donate so I did yesterday! The Red Cross staff was shockingly trans competent, too, and it was about as pleasant an experience as I could have asked for.

When I was carrying my son I had a Rhogam vaccine. I didn't end up carrying a second child, but my son is Rh+, so I absolutely could have been affected by this. What a hero.
posted by libraritarian at 6:13 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Because of this thread I checked if I'm eligible again, and it seems like I might be. The rules (in Norway) were revised three years ago and I'm out of quarantine for marrying a dirty foreigner, it seems. If I save any babies I'm crediting Johnny Wallflower.
posted by Harald74 at 6:20 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Also a member of the Might Have Mad Cow club. I miss donating! It made me feel so good about myself and others who were doing it.

NB those who are banned from blood donation due to mad cow and other infectious reasons are still eligible for bone marrow donation.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:22 AM on May 15


Does anybody know if a ban for needle use ever expires? Asking for, um, a friend.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:41 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Sad that there's still such a stigma preventing men who have sex with men from being eligible to donate. I would gladly donate, partly because there always seems to be a need, and partly because I received several units after a motorcycle wreck and I'd like to give back. And yet, according to the published guidelines, a straight person who has had 1,000 partners is preferable to a gay man who has had one.
posted by xedrik at 5:45 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Incredible!
posted by OliviaC at 8:49 PM on May 21


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