Celebrating Black History Month

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Dr. Charles R. Drew

Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) was born in Washington, DC, the oldest of five children. Drew was an extraordinary athlete, earning several medals for swimming in his elementary years. Later he branched out – playing football, basketball, and other sports.

After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1922, Drew went to Amherst College on a sports scholarship. There, he distinguished himself on the track and football teams, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1926

Drew wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a physician but didn’t have the money it took to go to school in the U.S. He took a job as a biology instructor and coach at Morgan College, now Morgan State University, in Baltimore, where he worked for two years.

In 1928, he applied to medical schools and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. At McGill, Drew specialized in surgery and developed his surgical career at Howard University when he joined the faculty in 1935. It was during his post-graduate internship and residency that he studied transfusion medicine. From 1938-1940, while studying at Columbia University, he refined key methods of collecting, processing, and storing plasma. He was awarded the Med. D.Sc. from Columbia in 1940; his doctoral thesis was titled “Banked Blood.” Banked BloodIn his research, Dr. Drew discovered that by separating the liquid part of the blood (called plasma) from the whole blood (where the red blood cells exist) and then refrigerating them separately, blood lasted longer and was less likely to become contaminated.

He also discovered that everyone has the same type of plasma; thus, in those instances where a whole blood transfusion is unnecessary, a plasma transfusion could be administered, regardless of blood type. He helped establish a blood bank at Columbia University and became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Medical Science degree from that university.In 1940, while WW II was going on, Dr. Drew was made the head medical supervisor of a project called “Blood for Britain.” Under his leadership, the project helped collect thousands of pints of blood and plasma from New York hospitals and shipped them overseas to treat soldiers in Europe.

It was Dr. Drew who introduced us to “bloodmobiles” — refrigerated trucks that served as blood transport and collection centers. He was so successful that in February 1941, he was made medical director of a pilot project to develop the first blood bank for military personnel under the American Red Cross.

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