What Does It Take to Save a Life?

This week buried beneath the din of politics and conflict was a brief article in the New York Times featuring an 81-year-old Australian man who was donating blood for the last time in his life.

He started giving blood as a young man – a way of paying back those who had donated the blood he needed to survive surgery as a 14-year-old boy.

He would go on to give blood every few weeks for over 60 years. The total number of times he has donated blood?  1,173.

While remarkable, this is only the beginning of the story.

At one point, it was discovered that his blood contained a rare anti-body that was essential for a life-saving drug called Anti-D given to expectant mothers to keep their babies healthy.

The Australian Red Cross estimates that the blood of this man, James Harrison, now retired, has saved more than 2.4 million babies from a potentially fatal disease.

If not amazed yet, among that number are included two of his own grandchildren. You see, his daughter received the drug with his anti-bodies as well.

Now rewind back to the beginning of this story. This remarkable journey began with nameless strangers who first donated blood to save James’s life. He then decided to give back –values instilled in him through his upbringing. 

Researchers then discovered something in his blood that was precious. Companies then made the drugs available to doctors who with nurses administered them to mothers.  All made affordable through a single payer health care system.

James’s actions are heroic. His dedication to giving back is awe-inspiring. At the same time, hidden in this amazing tale are the contributions of nameless others.

Like these nameless others, it is doubtful any of us will ever know how many lives we will save or impact at all. But this story is a reminder that it starts with a blind gift. The beauty of not knowing, but hoping that this gift will connect with others.

It is a sentiment, embodied in the words of Robert F. Kennedy who  said that those who act to improve the life of another or stand up for an ideal, “sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current …”

Here’s to all the tiny ripple’s among us and the currents they will create.

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