One of the breakthroughs of modern obstetrical care was the development of a vaccine to treat the complication that occurs when a mother’s blood is Rh-negative, and her child’s blood is Rh-positive. In such cases, the mother’s body may view the baby as a foreign invader because of his or her blood type, and develop antibodies to attack the baby’s blood. This attack leads to a type of anemia in the preborn child that causes brain damage and is potentially fatal to the baby. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains:
When an Rh-negative mother’s blood comes into contact with blood from her Rh-positive fetus, it causes the Rh-negative mother to make antibodies against the Rh factor. These antibodies attack the Rh factor as if it were a harmful substance. A person with Rh-negative blood who makes Rh antibodies is called “Rh sensitized.” […] During pregnancy, the woman and fetus do not share blood systems. However, a small amount of blood from the fetus can cross the placenta into the woman’s system. This sometimes may happen during pregnancy, labor, and birth [and other experiences].
Until about fifty years ago, many of the miscarriages and early infant losses that occurred around the world were caused by this difference in maternal and fetal blood, but doctors did not know how to prevent or treat the condition, now known as Rhesus disease. Then, researchers discovered that certain rare blood types contained an antidote that could be extracted from the blood donor’s plasma and used to create a vaccine for the pregnant mother experiencing this problem. Thanks to this vaccine, millions of baby’s lives have been saved.
One man with this rare blood type in Australia – where seventeen percent of pregnancies are at-risk for Rhesus disease – has donated his plasma more than one thousand times. From vaccines made with his plasma alone, over two million babies have been saved. According to Fox News:
Doctors suspect he developed the antibody during a chest operation when he was 14, when doctors removed a lung… When his father told him other, unknown people’s blood donations saved his life, Harrison vowed to do the same once he was allowed to, at age 18 in Australia. Every week for the past 60 years, doctors have used his antibodies to create the vaccine Anti-D, which is used to treat pregnant women with a blood disease that can lead to birth complications. He has donated his plasma more than 1,000 times.
Watch his incredible storybelow: