Humans usually revere and have a great deal of affection for those who save the lives of others. Whether it be a singular act of heroism and bravery to stop a tragedy from occurring, or even someone who has dedicated their life to assisting others, such acts are generally seen as being selfless and are rightly praised by members of the public. While a great amount of people, from doctors to everyday heroes, have saved lives, there are some who, through their actions, have gone on to save hundreds, thousands and even millions of lives.
Sometimes a person may have been a startling new discovery that meant that the quality of life of many could be significantly increased, playing a vital role in saving lives. In other cases, it may well be that the person has dedicated themselves to a particular course that means they are constantly helping others and therefore, playing an intricate part in the well-being of those they are assisting. Some people have saved millions of lives through medical advances or through the development of vaccinations, while in a few select cases, an individual may have just made a judgement call that prevented an escalation of events that could have spiraled out of control.
These individuals have all either shown an incredible amount of kindness and humility, or invented devices or processes that have changed the way we live for the better, saving countless lives in the process.
10 Christopher Catrambone
During the summer of 2014, the illegal immigration of people from countries in Africa and the Middle East into European countries, had become more tightly controlled than ever before. This meant that migrants were beginning to take far more risky journeys by boat, that led to many hundreds drowning. Following a call to action by the Pope, Christopher Catrambone and his family set about spending millions of pounds to buy a boat and stock it with equipment and experts to help save the lives of migrants who were in trouble on the seas.
During the 60 days that they carried out the operation this summer, Caltrambone estimates that the number of people they safely transported to Italy and Malta was around 3,000 men, women and children. People who would be very likely to die or be seriously injured if they had not been rescued.
9 Nicholas Winton
This 105-year-old man played a vital role in helping more than 600 young children from escaping Czechoslovakia in 1938, before its inhabitants were forced into concentration camps. He single-handedly organized the transportation of children by train to the UK and found them families to live with.
In total, his work helped to save the lives of 669 children, who now have an estimated 5000 descendants. Most stayed in Britain after the war, as reuniting with their parents was impossible, as they had died in concentration camps along with the 250 children on a train that never made it out of Czechoslovakia.
Winton did not speak of his actions just before World War II to anyone for almost 50 years. By chance, his wife discovered the notes, letters and documents in the attic and went public with them. To recognize the work he carried out, he has received an MBE, a knighthood and the Order of the White Lion in October of 2014.
8 Nils Bohlin
While Volvo often claim to be the inventor of the modern day seatbelt, most of the work on the project was done by one man. Nils Bohlin was an engineer who had previously worked on the technology of ejector seats for fighter jets. He began work on the idea for a motor vehicle safety belt in 1958 after joining Volvo with the plan to create a device that would increase safety dramatically but be able to be put on quickly and easily.
His eventual design of the three point harness came about as Bohlin knew that both the shoulder and the abdomen would have to be restrained, so that no one part of the body would receive the full force of the crash. The buckle was moved to the side to make it easier to use and to stop injuries to the chest that were common with seat belts that used a central buckle. While the exact number of lives saved directly because of a seat-belt is hard to say with any real accuracy, most experts say that the number could potentially be in the millions.
7 Vasili Arkhipov
With the Cuban Missile Crisis reaching its most tense moments, a Russian nuclear submarine was stranded in the ocean and cut off from communication. With a US ship attacking it with fake depth charges in order to make it surface, the submarines commanders faced the choice of launching a nuclear warhead.
Russian nuclear submarines required that three most senior officers all agreed. These included the Captain, the political officer and the second-in-command. Two of those were in favor of launching the warhead, which would surely set in motion a chain of events that would have led to World War III, but Vasili Arkhipov refused to give permission. His reputation and good standing holding a great deal of weight in the discussions, Arkhipov saved countless lives that would have been ended by a nuclear war.
6 Richard Lewisohn
One of the biggest problems with surgery before the advance of modern medicine, was the fact that blood transfusions were virtually impossible. As blood clotted when it left the body, it made transferring blood from one person to another incredibly difficult and meant that significant loss of blood, would almost certainly result in death.
The biggest breakthrough came in 1913, when Robert Lewisohn found a way to preserve blood and stop it from clotting when it was removed from a live donor, known as the citrate method of blood transfusion. This led to the ability for hospitals to have blood banks and to be able to carry out transfusions at any time. The discovery means that Lewisohn may have been responsible for saving hundreds of millions of lives in the last century.
5 Gino Strada
Dr. Gino Strada is a surgeon who has treated civilians and soldiers around the world, many in war-torn countries or in places that are remote and poor for the last 25 years. He travels to these locations, performing vital heart and lung transplant surgeries, in addition to setting up vital hospitals to look after the sick.
All-in-all, Strada has personally carried out a remarkable 30,000 operations in a wide range of countries that include Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. The vast majority of his patients have been innocent victims of wars and violence, in those countries who would not otherwise have access to medical care.
The hospitals that have been opened and organized by the surgeon, are noted for their cleanliness and level of care, despite being in locations that traditionally offer very poor services. There are also no costs for their patients, with the price paid by the organization Emergency set up by Strada, in 1994.
4 Jorge Odon
Jorge Odon is an Argentinian car mechanic and inventor who created a device that has already been used hundreds of times, to assist in difficult births that could prove to be fatal for child and mother. The Odon Device is a simple tool that involves a plastic bag being inserted into the uterus and blown up with air, this then grips the baby’s head and allows it to be removed quickly and relatively painlessly.
To ensure that the device does not damage the lining of the uterus, the bag only goes over the head of the baby so that the volume of material going into the uterus is limited. Meanwhile, there is little chance for the baby to be injured. Babies in the womb do not breath and therefore, the bag cannot suffocate them and it is far safer than other methods. Forceps and ventouse devices can damage tissue and cause injuries to the skull of the infant.
Because it is incredibly cheap and easy to use, the World Health Organization believes it is perfect for use in developing countries. In these types of countries, birth difficulties can often be fatal and so this tool has the potential to save an incredible amount of lives in the future.
3 Stanislav Petrov
Stanislav Petrov was another Russian who may have prevented an outbreak of nuclear attacks during the Cold War. Petrov was in charge of monitoring an early warning system near Moscow. The station had recently been refitted with new equipment and on September 26th, 1983, the system announced that several missiles were headed for the country. At a time of heightened tensions between Nato and the Soviet Union, it was thought entirely possible that the US had launched an attack.
Petrov though, had a feeling that the alert was simply a false alarm and dismissed it as a genuine attack. Ground radar had not picked up any evidence of the missile, the fact that there were only five shown on screen and the knowledge that the equipment was brand new created doubt. Had he reported the alert to his higher ups as protocol demanded, they would have been faced with only minutes to make a decision on whether to launch a retaliatory nuclear launch, and would have most likely done so.
2 James Harrison
James Harrison, often known simply as “the man with the golden arm”, is an Australian man who was born in 1936. He has been directly responsible for saving an estimated 2 million lives from blood he has donated, as it contains a rare antibody that can effectively treat Rhesus disease. Before Harrison’s donations, Rhesus disease was killing thousands of children every year and leading to a large number of birth defects, as there was no available treatment. The antibody in his blood plasma could stop problems happening to unborn babies in the womb by protecting red blood cells. Now if a woman has an Rh blood test that shows there could be difficulties associated with Rhesus disease, the mother can be given a vaccine developed specifically from research carried out from donated blood plasma from Harrison.
The rare properties of his plasma were first discovered in 1954, when he began to give blood as a way to make up for the blood that saved his life during a childhood operation. When doctors first found the antibody in his blood, Harrison agreed to regular donations and by 2011, had made 1000 donations.
1 Norman Borlaug
Often called the “Father of the Green Revolution”, Norman Borlaug is a little-known figure who has perhaps saved the largest amount of lives in human history. After leaving University with a PhD, he moved to Mexico and worked on creating a new type of wheat crop. Through cross-breeding and the development of new techniques, Borlaug was able to create a high-yield wheat crop that was resistant to disease. Its spread in Asia and South America meant that great famines that were expected to cause havoc in countries such as India, were averted, saving hundreds of millions of lives.
These achievements meant that he has been bestowed with numerous awards and prizes. These include the likes of a Nobel Peace Prize, President’s Medal and the Congressional Gold Medal, amongst other less prestigious honors from other countries such as India and Mexico.