The Man with the Golden Arm

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drawing blood
Photo by Hush Naidoo

Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at the life-saving medicine Anti-D. This medicine comes from people like James Harrison and his special blood.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

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And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1  

James Harrison sits in a comfortable chair. He smiles and talks to the people around him. But there is something strange about why he is sitting. There is a thin, sharp needle in his arm. It is connected by a long thin tube to a machine. James Harrison is giving blood. But this is not a normal blood donation. Harrison has given blood over 1000 times. And his blood is very special. People have used Harrison’s blood to save over two million babies in Australia! Today’s Spotlight is on James Harrison and his amazing blood.

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People who have had accidents or are having operations sometimes need more blood. So, many people around the world donate, or give, their blood. Hospitals give this blood to their patients. Most healthy people can safely give blood. But Harrison has given a lot more blood than the average person. James Harrison turned 81 in 2018. He is now too old to give blood. But he donated blood for more than 60 years! James Harrison told CNN about why he started giving blood:

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“In 1951 I had a chest surgery where they removed a lung. I was 14. When I came out of the operation my father was explaining what had happened. He said I had received 13 liters of blood. My life had been saved by unknown people. My dad was a blood donor. So I said: When I am old enough, I will become a blood donor.”

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Soon after he started giving blood, Doctors discovered his blood was different. Doctors could use substances in Harrison’s blood to prevent rhesus disease. Rhesus disease is a condition caused by differences in blood. Babies with rhesus disease can have serious health problems or even die.

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To understand rhesus disease there are some things a person needs to know about blood. All human blood is similar but there are different blood types called O, A, B, and AB. Each blood type is either rhesus negative or positive. For example, there is B positive blood, and B negative blood. People who are rhesus negative cannot receive blood from people who are rhesus positive. Hospitals are very careful not to give people the wrong blood type.

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Rhesus disease happens when a mother is rhesus negative, but her baby is rhesus positive. When this happens the mother’s body may reject or attack the baby. An antibody is a substance in a person’s blood. The mother’s blood produces antibodies to attack the baby’s cells inside her.

baby yawning
Photo by Tim Bish
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Then a baby has rhesus disease. Babies with rhesus disease may have many health problems. Their inner organs and body systems do not work correctly. In many cases, they die. Jemma Falkenmire works for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. She told CNN how this affected her country:

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“In Australia, until about 1967, there were thousands of babies dying each year. Doctors did not know why. It was awful. Women were having many miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage. Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody. It changed everything at the time.”

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Doctors used the antibody they found to develop an injection. The injection is called Anti-D. It is the only known way to fight rhesus disease. And the donor that Falkenmire is talking about is James Harrison. Anti-D can only be made from the blood of particular donors like him. Doctors give injections of Anti-D to pregnant women at risk of rhesus disease. This stops the mother’s body from attacking the baby’s cells. Then there is a much better chance of having a healthy baby. Millions of women need these injections. But only a few people have the antibodies needed to make Anti-D in their blood.

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In some places in the world they do not even have the choice of receiving Anti-D. In many countries there is not enough information about rhesus disease. In 2018, researchers Zipursky, Bhutani and Odame did a study. They looked at rhesus disease as a major public health problem in developing countries. They published an article in The Lancet. It states that rhesus disease is the cause of death of over 150,000 babies every year, worldwide. They hope that there will be more global research about this important issue.

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Scientists and doctors have tried to make Anti-D in the laboratory, without blood. But so far it has not worked. People still depend on blood donors. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in Australia, there are only around 150 people able to give blood to make Anti-D. And about 17 percent of Australian women are at risk. So James Harrison has been an important part of the blood program there for 60 years. Robyn Barlow is the Rh program coordinator. She first asked James to donate his blood for this cause. She told the Herald:

hand testing blood samples
Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande
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“Every dose of Anti-D ever made in Australia has James in it – since the very first mother received her dose at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1967.”

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James Harrison’s blood has a very high level of Anti-D. This is probably because he received some of the wrong kind of blood during his surgery as a young man. But James Harrison was also willing to give. He gave blood every two weeks for most of his life. He is a hero in Australia. About two point four million babies were born healthy because of Harrison’s blood. People call him “The Man with the Golden Arm.”

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Over his 60 years, James Harrison has donated blood over 1,100 times. He spent half a day every two weeks with a sharp needle in his arm. He cannot donate anymore. But he hopes that other people will take his place. He tells the Australian Red Cross,

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“I hope it is a record that someone breaks. That will mean they are dedicated to saving people’s lives.”

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Have you ever given blood? Have you ever received someone’s blood? Do you think you would give blood to help someone else? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on Facebook at

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “The Man with the Golden Arm”.

Voice 2  

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android or Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Have you ever given blood? Have you ever needed blood after an accident or surgery? Write your answer in the comments below.

Join the discussion

  • I hope to give my blood to others that nead it , but infortuinatly I cann’t because I have an autoimmunio dessise .

  • One day, one of my best freind he had told me that her Mother needs a blood for her surgery, i wanted to donate but she needs more than 1 litre, in that time i found another donors willing to give blood because only me not enough, the donors were my freinds they accepted to donate just when i said there is a woman need blood we went to hospital then we donated but sadly the woman after a success surgery she died.

  • Hello my friend how are you ?
    first I want to say ,thank you for existing and helping us .
    (I’m a beginner so excuse me of all faults from me )
    second : I want suggest for your time ,I want your time add shortcut keys for audible
    voice you shore with people .
    (if you have shortcut button tell me .because I need shortcut button when I hearing
    your voices)
    I hoped you could understand my message means;

  • I had given my blood maybe before 3 months ago I think 🙂
    But I knew my blood they can’t use it for a lot of patients, my blood type is AB+.
    I can take all the types of bloods but who can received my blood just like me

  • hello . i think a donated a blood.
    to save someone is the a very important things.
    i did it so many time until now. thanks of god i don”t receive blood

  • I haven’t ever given blood, I think because I’m scared a little bit from the symptom after donating blood. but I will think about donating more. And no I haven’t needed blood ever alhamdulillah.

  • Until now I have never tried donation blood, but every time I go to the hospital I see a sign invite who want to donate… I hope in the future my health become better and I promise my self I will be a blood donor

  • Hello Spotlight team.I had never donated blood.But one of my dreams is donating blood so I hope I can achieve it soon.Donating has a lot of fields is not just for medicine it can be for education and more.And the donation has the same goal in these fields is for helping the community.

  • I have ever given blood 13 times. After each blood giving, I feel very happy because my blood will save someone’s life. Also, that mean my health is quite good to give blood. I will still give blood as possible as I can and inspire others to be a blood donor. We make life better together. Thanks God!

  • Actually, I haven’t given my blood yet, but maybe in the future I will give it to who needs it, I think you should do it If you can maybe you can saving someone (thank you for reading my comment )

  • I have never forget when my grandma needed blood donator or at least a litter of blood. it was awful!

  • Yeah i am muslum so every year in February exactly i give blood to hospital to save people , and i don’t need one to give me his blood in this time al hmdoulilah

  • When my mom at hospital it was there rooms for donors I went to there but was closed because it opens in morning until afternoon

  • When my mom at hospital it was there rooms for donors I went to there but was closed because it opens in morning until afternoon and I don’t donate again

  • Yes when I was pregnant needed to blood, and well i received blood from unknown person.
    From another side I can’t a blood donor because i have diabetes type one, so I’m sorry for that.

  • I have never donated blood before but in the future I hope given blood to people to neaded because l proud when I help a person to get rid of the damage and the danger. Thanks god because l don’t exposed any accidents or surgery threfore l don’t needed given blood. Finally, l advice all peaple to given blood to people to needed because this work makes you live satisfay and hapinnes because you helped someone who needed you so badly .

  • No i never gave blood to someone in hospital or in the blood donate center.
    May Allah protect us, i never lived a bad situation such as this.
    And May Allah preserve us from any awful fate.

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