Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes people risk their lives, or even dedicate them, for the sake of humanity. Throughout history, there have been instances where people put their lives on the line to protect others. In this list, we are recognizing 10 such remarkable individuals who have, in one way or another, made such an impact in this world. They not only inspire us but also ignite our inner flames with their immense capability. From an Indian air hostess who risked her life to protect three children, to a man who saved more than 2 million babies by donating his rare blood; here are 10 heroes who we need to be known and celebrated.
1. Neerja Bhanot, an Indian airhostess for Pan Am, was murdered while saving passengers from a hijacked Pan Am Flight 73.
On September 5, 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 made a stopover in Karachi, Pakistan, when a terrorist group hijacked the airplane. The aircraft, carrying 361 passengers and 19 crew members, was on its way from Mumbai to the United States. Neerja Bhanot, who was one of the air hostesses on the flight, quickly alerted the pilots who managed to use the hatch on top of the crew cabin to escape to safety. The four armed men who gained control of the aircraft wanted to fly to Cyprus, while keeping the American passengers as hostages. Their goal was to free Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus.
As the terrorists started claiming the lives of Americans, Neerja started secretly collecting the passports of all American passengers. She hid them safely so the armed men would not be able to differentiate between the passengers. As the terrorists started using explosives inside the aircraft, Neerja used an escape hatch to help free the hostages.
As she was helping three innocent children escape through the hatch, one of the men spotted her. Neerja selflessly shielded the children from the bullets fired by the terrorist. She managed to help many passengers, as well the children, run to safety by sacrificing her life. Her bravery was recognized by Pakistan, India and the United States; who awarded her with medals for her act. She also became the youngest and the first woman in India to achieve the highest peacetime award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra Award. (source)
2. Pastor Lee Jong-rak, a South Korean pastor created a “baby box”, which is attached to the side of his house.
Pastor Lee Jong-rak from South Korea is the creator of the “baby box”. The box is a small area with an opening, attached to the side of his house. The box allows parents to deposit their mentally handicapped or abandoned babies. Lee, who is kind-hearted, adopts these children and gives them a chance at life. Lee and his wife started adopting children with disabilities so that they can stop children from being abandoned on the side of the road.
The Lees have been doing this for 14 years. Since then, they have adopted 16 children; mostly with disabilities. In the community, there are currently 19 family members; the Lees, their son and the 16 abandoned children who they take care of as their own.
Lee says that he will continue to do this and help children live a good life until there are no more abandoned babies. The Lees get little to no support from the government. The family relies upon volunteers and their donations. (source)
3. Nils Bohlin: Invented the three-point seat belt system and released it to the public for free.
Nils Bohlin, a Swedish inventor, invented the three-point seatbelt while working for Volvo Car Corporation. The US Patent Office issued him a patent for his creation on July 10, 1962. Volvo first introduced the two-point seatbelt system in its cars in 1959. Even though the design saved lives, it still caused injuries because of the sudden deceleration during a crash.
The three-point seatbelt system was effective since it effectively held both the upper and lower body. Recognizing the importance of safety, Volvo decided to release the new seat belt design for free to other car manufacturers. The design quickly gained importance and became a standard worldwide. Since the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, the design became mandatory in all new American vehicles.
A recent study conducted by the Volvo research team found that Bohlin’s three-point system has saved more than 1 million lives as of today. (source)
4. Henrietta Lacks: Without her knowledge, her cells were collected to create the first known human immortal cell line.
Born on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia, Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman whose cells were the reason for the development of the polio vaccine. After her second marriage, Henrietta, her new husband and her two children moved to Turner Station in Baltimore County, Maryland. After giving birth to her fifth child, doctors discovered that she was suffering from cancer.
As Henrietta arrived at a Maryland hospital for the treatment of cancer, sample cells from her tumors were taken without her consent. Researchers then used the collected cells to perform numerous tests and were eventually cultured into the HeLa cell line. Her cells proved to be an enormous boon in the field of medical and biological research.
By 1954, Jonas Salk used the HeLa cell line to create a polio vaccine. By 1955, HeLa cells became the first human cells to be successfully cloned. Although many doctors and researchers knew about the HeLa cell line and its origin, the information was kept a secret. When the Lacks family learned about the news that Henrietta’s cells helped save millions of lives, they were shocked. The family was never compensated for the extraction of cells without the consent of the donor. (source)
5. Dobri Dimitrov Dobrev: A 100-year-old Bulgarian who donates money from begging to orphanages that can’t pay their bills.
Those who are unfamiliar with this kind man and his story will ignore him as a haggard beggar who depends on people’s generosity to survive.But, to the locals in Bulgaria, he is a saint. The WWII soldier lost most of his hearing in the war and walks 15 miles everyday, begging for money from strangers all day. Every cent Dobrev receives from begging goes to orphanages that are struggling to keep children fed.
Dobrev does not keep a cent from his daily begging and survives off of his 80 euros (about $100) in pension every month. The reason behind his unconditional love and passion to help churches and orphanages? According to a reddit user who met Dobrev numerous times, he once “did a bad thing”, and is trying to make up for his past mistakes by helping those in need.
Today, this 100-year-old man has a website dedicated to him and according to the website, Dobrev has donated more than 35,700 lev (more than $24,000) from begging. (source)
6. James Harrison: He has a rare plasma composition in his blood. He has donated blood more than 1,000 times, and as a result saved more than 2 million babies.
James Harrison is commonly known as the ‘Man with the Golden Arm’ in Australia. This is because the 78-year-old has saved more than 2 million babies by rolling up his sleeves. For the past 60 years, Harrison has donated 800 mL of blood plasma, almost every week. Until the 1960’s, women in Australia suffered multiple miscarriages and had issues during and after birth. Scientists tried to study the circumstances surrounding the incidents, however, it wasn’t until decades later that they understood the potential culprit.
Rhesus disease caused a mother’s blood to attack the cells of her unborn child. The condition occurs if the mother has RhD-negative blood and the fetus inherits the father’s RhD-positive blood type. When Harrison was 14-years of age, he had to undergo an emergency surgery on his lung, which required 13 units of blood. After his successful surgery, Harrison vowed to donate his blood as soon as he turned 17. When he finally turned 17 and donated his blood, scientists hit the jackpot, as Harrison’s blood contained the rare combination of RhD-negative blood and anti-D antibodies.
The breakthrough helped fight the disease and upon learning the importance of his blood, Harrison has been donating and saving lives ever since. Today, about 17 percent of women require the anti-D booster shot to protect their unborn child from Rhesus disease. (source)
7. Eugene Lazowski: He saved 8,000 Jews during the Holocaust by injecting dead typhus cells. This allowed them to test for being positive for typhus, despite being healthy.
Born Eugeniusz Sławomir Łazowski, Eugene Lazowski was a Polish doctor by passion and profession. While serving in the Polish Army, Eugene Lazowski, along with his friend Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz, developed a method of injecting dead typhus cells to test positive for typhus but not to have any side effects. Lazowski utilized this discovery and decided to inject it in Jews so they would test positive.
Germans were afraid of the disease and stopped deporting Jews to concentration camps after learning that they had contracted it. The fake epidemic was spread through different villages and is believed to have saved at least 8,000 lives. By doing this, Lazowski risked his life, since it was against the German laws for Polish people to help Jews. (source)
8. Alice Catherine Evans: She championed the pasteurization of milk and saved thousands of lives.
Born on January 29, 1881, in Neath, Pennsylvania, Alice Catherine Evans was an American microbiologist. While working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she discovered that Bacillus abortus or brucellosis was harmful to humans. She also discovered that pasteurization of milk kills many bacteria in milk and helps prevent diseases in humans.
Evans reported her findings to the Society of American Bacteriologists in 1917 and in 1918, published her work in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Her findings and studies were mostly met with skepticism since Evans was a woman and also because she did not have a Ph.D. By 1920, many scientists who studied the same bacteria concluded that pasteurization killed bacteria; supporting her findings. It wasn’t until 1930 that milk started to be sold after pasteurization, significantly reducing undulant fever and Malta fever in the United States. (source)
9. Frances Oldham Kelsey: She saved a whole generation of babies from Thalidomide.
In September 1960, after Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey started her new job as a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration, she received an application to market a new sedative known as Kevadon. The product was already being sold across Europe to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. Kelsey, when analyzing the data on the drug’s safety, was concerned and hesitated to approve the drug to be used in the United States.
Her denial was met with a great amount of pressure from pharmaceutical companies but Kelsey stayed strong with her decision to not approve it. By 1961, proof of children being born with flipper-like arms and legs and other defects after the use of the drug, better known by its generic name of thalidomide, started emerging. Her decision to not approve the drug to be used in the United States stopped widespread birth deformities. (source)
10. Irena Sendler: A Polish nurse who risked her life to save 2,500 children from Nazi-occupied Poland.
The Polish nurse was a humanitarian who helped free many lives during the Nazi invasion. With the help of other members of a humanitarian group, Sendler helped around 2,500 children escape out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She not only got them out safely, she also helped create new identities for them outside the Ghetto.
The underground network that Sendler worked with managed to help many men, women and children during World War II. However, her humanitarian activities didn’t last long since the Germans eventually learned of the activities conducted by the underground network. They captured Sendler, tortured her and sentenced her to death. She somehow managed to evade the death penalty and survive the war. For her kind and humanitarian efforts, Poland later awarded her with the highest honor; the Order of the White Eagle. (source)
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