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The Man With The Golden Arm

By: Michael Blankenship |

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Helen Keller

In 1951, James Harrison, age 14, underwent major chest surgery and ended up needing a large blood transfusion. After recovering, James acknowledged that it was the blood from donors that saved his life. Starting at the age of 18 (the legal age requirement in Australia at the time), James committed himself to donating blood to help others despite his fear of needles. 

It wasn’t until he’d made several donations that doctors discovered something unique about James’s blood. It carried an unusually strong antibody needed to create Anti-D, a medication crucial in combating Rhesus disease— a potentially deadly condition where a pregnant woman’s blood attacks her unborn child’s blood cells. 

Learning this information reinforced James’s commitment to donating plasma and blood to help others survive. Because plasma can be donated more frequently than blood, James, over the course of nearly 60 years, was able to donate 1,173 times—a world record at the time in May 2018. 

His donations have helped save 2.4 million lives, and up until he stopped donating (he only stopped because Australia caps the donation age limit at 81), every dose of Anti-D medicine ever made in Australia came from James’s blood. In June 1999, he was awarded the Medal Of The Order Of Australia, one of the country’s most honored awards. 

The story of James Harrison teaches us that heroes don’t necessarily come from grandiose feats of action but can be made through subtle, consistent action with a quiet commitment to helping others.  There’s nothing that says James had to donate plasma on average every three weeks for 57 years, but because of the incredible nature of his blood, he recognized the responsibility he had to save lives.

James was dubbed “The Man With The Golden Arm,” but what he really has is a heart of gold. Each of us is given a golden arm—we just have to discover what it is, then share it with the world. 

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