In the comics you might be endowed with super powers via radioactive spider bite, or a dip in toxic waste. IRL those origin stories are a little less dramatic — yet they still happen. Like the childhood blood transfusion that gave James Harrison the ability to save people’s lives with his wonder blood.
The 78-year-old Australian man has given plasma thousands of times, once a week for the past 60 years. And while everyone who can donate blood should once in a while, Harrison’s contributions are extraordinarily important. Gifted with an unusual antibody found by doctors in the 1960s, his blood can be used to develop an injection called Anti-D. It’s used to treat women with rhesus disease, a condition in which a pregnant woman’s blood turns on her unborn baby’s blood cells.
Over the years, the Red Cross blood service in Australia estimates 2 million people have been saved by Harrison’s blood, and holy Mary Christmas, Batman, that’s a number two with six zeroes behind it.
“Every bag of blood is precious, but James’ blood is particularly extraordinary,” Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross, tells CNN. “His blood is actually used to make a life-saving medication, given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn babies. Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James’ blood.”
Doctors can’t say for certain exactly how Harrison’s blood developed the antibody but the suspicion is that it’s the result of a series of transfusions he received at 14. As a teenager Harrison had to have a lung removed, and wouldn’t have survived the procedure without 13 liters of blood from anonymous donors. Like all great superheroes, Harrison rose up from his traumatic origin inspired, in this case promising he too would become a blood donor. Once he started getting his veins tapped, doctors discovered the antibodies, and a few million saved lives later here were are. He makes Iron Man look like a piker by comparison.