What’s your definition of a hero? It is Caitlyn Jenner, a woman formerly known as Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner, father of several kids, reality television star and motivational speaker finally opening up after 67 years of living a lie? Is it the men and women in uniform that protect our streets from crime? Is it the teacher that believed in you and helped you to create the kind life you always wanted for yourself? Is it the single mom doing it all on her own? Is it the cancer patient fighting for her life and making a difference in the lives of others? Is it superman?
The truth of the matter is that there is no one size fits all mold when it comes to heroes. They are everywhere. It is the woman who has lived her entire life as a man and decides to come out almost 7 decades later in one of the biggest stories of the year; she’s making change and paving the way for others. It is the men and women in uniform protecting us and putting their own lives on the line to keep our streets safe and to keep our country free. It is the teacher that helped encourage and educate you to become the person you are today. It is the single mom sacrificing every day of her life to care for her kids without help. It is the cancer patient who is fighting a battle no one should ever have to fight, and it is the supermans of the world. It’s also 78-year-old James Harrison, the man with the ‘Golden Arm’ who is preparing to donate his blood for the 1106th time in his life. His blood has saved more than 2,000,000 babies.
For three months when he was just a 14-year-old boy, Harrison lived in the hospital after becoming ill and facing a life-threatening stay. He had to have a lung removed, and he had to have several blood transfusions throughout this surgery and his stay in the hospital. It was the two gallons of blood he had to have given to him when he arrived in the hospital that made him feel as if he had to do the same thing in return. Someone had donated that blood and saved his life, and he wanted to repay the favor – and that’s what he did when he turned 18. He began giving his blood and his plasma every three weeks from that point forward.
But it would be discovered as he donated that his blood type would enable him to do more than just save a few lives through transfusions here and there. His particular blood is very rare and is able to help doctors with something that happens to babies and their mothers during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, she is tested for Rh. It’s rhesus isoimmunization (Rh disease) and it can be fatal. This happens when a pregnant woman’s blood is Rh-negative and her baby’s is Rh-positive. What then happens is that the mothers body begins to attack the red blood cells of the baby she is carrying, which can kill the baby. For many years, there was nothing that could be done about this, but scientists were able to find something unique in the blood of Harrison that allows them to stop a woman’s body from attacking her fetus.
It’s called Rh (D) immune globulin, and it’s been saving lives for decades now thanks to Harrison’s frequent blood donations. His blood has saved the lives of more than 2,000,000 babies whose mothers bodies might have otherwise attacked them and killed them, and it’s not something that Harrison or the doctors who work with his blood take for granted. It’s believed that the blood transfusion he received as a child when he was so sick is what caused this to form in his blood, and Harrison is the first man ever in Australia to be able to give blood like this and save life. Even decades later, there are only about 50 people who are able to provide blood with this anti-D.
Because of his ability to save lives and his desire to continue to share his blood with those in need, he’s been in the Guinness Book of World Records for his donations. For 60 years he’s been donating his blood, and he feels that it is his way of giving back. When he travels, he makes sure that there is a donation center near his destination so that he does not have to go without giving, but his days are numbered. Medical rules state that he can only donate his blood until he is 81, which means he has less than 3 years of giving left. What he wants is to bring awareness to people who are not donating so that they can start. The world needs more men and women like him, especially those who have the same anti-D in their blood, so that they can save lives. He’s already gotten his grandson to donate his own blood.
Harrison is preparing to donate for the 1106th time, and he does not feel that he is a hero at all. In fact, he feels that because he’s given a snack and a cup of coffee while he donates, that he’s not actually doing anything particularly wonderful with his time. While he understands the importance of what he does, he does not feel that he is a hero; just a man giving back after some unknown people donated their blood and saved his life as a teenage boy so many years ago.
If you haven’t donated blood in the past, we encourage you to try. Every little bit helps, and you have no idea just how many lives your blood might save. Perhaps that makes you a hero, perhaps it does not. In the eyes of those 2,000,000 babies and their families, however, Harrison is the biggest hero of them all. Without his blood, they might not be here to think that way.
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