A remarkable, uplifting story about one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century
In 1951 in Sydney, Australia, a fourteen-year-old boy named James Harrison was near death when he received a transfusion of blood that saved his life. A few years later, and half a world away, a shy young doctor at Columbia University realized he was more comfortable in the lab than in the examination room. Neither could have imagined how their paths would cross, or how they would change the world.
In Good Blood, bestselling writer Julian Guthrie tells the gripping tale of the race to cure a horrible blood disease known as Rh disease that stalked families and caused a mother’s immune system to attack her own unborn child. The story is anchored by two very different men on two continents: Dr. John Gorman in New York, who would land on a brilliant yet contrarian idea, and an unassuming Australian whose almost magical blood—and his unyielding devotion to donating it—would save millions of lives.
Good Blood takes us from Australia to America, from research laboratories to hospitals, and even into Sing Sing prison, where experimental blood trials were held. It is a tale of discovery and invention, the progress and pitfalls of medicine, and the everyday heroics that fundamentally changed the health of women and babies.
Journalist Guthrie (How to Make a Spaceship) chronicles the joint efforts of the Australian blood donor and the doctor who helped to solve the mystery of Rh disease in the 1960s. The illness occurs when a baby inherits the Rh antigen from its father and the mother's blood is Rh negative. The mother's antibodies destroy the baby's red blood cells, causing anemia and miscarriage. Tens of thousands of babies succumbed to the disease each year until Australian doctor John Gorman, then a pathology resident at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues had the idea to inject Rh-negative mothers, shortly before and after delivery, with a passive form of the same antibody they would naturally produce in reaction to their baby's blood, in order to inhibit their immune response. Meanwhile, James Harrison, who had undergone a major chest surgery at age 14 that required a massive transfusion of blood, had been donating blood in Sydney for years. As a result of the transfusion, Harrison had developed 10 times more of the required antibodies than the average donor of his blood type, and his blood plasma soon became a key factor in the success of Gorman's treatment. By donating his blood for more than 60 years, Guthrie writes, Harrison saved millions of lives. Though deep dives into technical matters may trip up lay readers, Guthrie vividly captures the determination and commitment of her two main subjects. This is an inspiring and heartwarming story of a medical breakthrough.