Charles Drew was an African in America surgeon who pioneered methods of … who developed ways to process and store blood plasma in “blood banks.”
Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Thanks to Charles Drew, that blood is available. Drew was a physician, surgeon, and medical researcher who worked with a team at Red Cross on groundbreaking discoveries around blood transfusions. In World War II, he played a major role in developing the first large-scale blood banks and blood plasma programs.
He also invented the, and get ready because this name is pretty charming — bloodmobiles. These are the refrigerated trucks that, to this day, safely transport stored blood to the location where it is needed most.
Drew was one of the most prominent doctors working in his field, and one of the only African-Americans, during a time when blood donation was still separated along lines of race. Drew eventually resigned from his position with the American Red Cross over their insistence on adhering to this policy. It was 1950 before the Red Cross finally recognized all blood as being equal.
Charles Richard Drew Biography
Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of Allied forces’ lives during the war. As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.
Drew was born in 1904 into an African-American middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His father, Richard, was a carpet layer and his mother, Nora Burrell, trained as a teacher. Drew and three (two sisters, one brother) of his four younger siblings (three sisters and one brother total) grew up in Washington’s largely middle-class and interracial Foggy Bottom neighborhood. From a young age Drew began work as a newspaper boy in his neighborhood, daily helping deliver over a thousand newspapers to his neighbors. Drew attended Washington’s Dunbar High School which was well known for its equality and opportunities for all, despite the racial climate at the time. From 1920 until his marriage in 1939, Drew’s permanent address was in Arlington County, Virginia, although he graduated from Washington’s Dunbar High School in 1922 and resided elsewhere during that period of time.
Drew won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he played on the football as well as the track and field team, and later graduated in 1926. After college, Drew spent two years (1926–1928) as a professor of chemistry and biology, the first athletic director, and football coach at the historically black private Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland, to earn the money to pay for medical school.
For his medical career Drew applied to Howard University, Harvard Medical School and later McGill University. Drew lacked some prerequisites for Howard University, and Harvard wanted to defer him a year, so to begin medical school promptly, Drew decided to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was during this stage in his medical journey that Drew worked with John Beattie, who was conducting research regarding the potential correlations between transfusions of blood and shock therapy. Shock occurs as the amount of blood in the body rapidly declines which can be due to a variety of factors such as a wound or lack of fluids (dehydration). As the body goes into shock both blood pressure and body temperature decrease which then causes a lack of blood flow due to a loss of oxygen in the body’s tissues and cells. Eventually it became clear that transfusions were the solution to treating victims of shock, but at the time there was no successful method of transportation or mass storage of blood, leaving transfusions to be extremely limited to location.
Drew’s first appointment as a faculty instructor was for pathology at Howard University from 1935 to 1936. He then joined Freedman’s Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University, as an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon. In 1938, Drew began graduate work at Columbia University in New York City on the award of a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery. He then began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science at Surgery at Columbia University. He spent time doing research at Columbia’s Presbyterian Hospital and wrote a doctoral thesis, “Banked Blood: A Study on Blood Preservation,” based on an exhaustive study of blood preservation techniques. It was through this blood preservation research where Drew realized blood plasma was able to be preserved, two months, longer through de-liquification, or the separation of liquid blood from the cells. When ready for use the plasma would then be able to return to its original state via reconstitution. This thesis earned him his Doctor of Science in Medicine degree in 1940, becoming the first African American to do so. The District of Columbia chapter of the American Medical Association allowed only white doctors to join, consequently “… Drew died without ever being accepted for membership in the AMA.
Blood for Britain
In late 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II and just after earning his doctorate, Drew was recruited by John Scudder to help set up and administer an early prototype program for blood storage and preservation. Here Drew was able to apply his thesis to aid in the blood preservation and transportation. He was to collect, test, and transport large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in the United Kingdom. Drew understood that plasma extraction from blood required both centrifugation and liquid extraction. Each extraction was conducted under controlled conditions to eliminate risk of contamination. Air concealment, ultraviolet light and Merthiolate were all used to mitigate the possibility of plasma contamination.
Drew went to New York City as the medical director of the United States’ Blood for Britain project. It was here that Drew helped set the standard for other hospitals donating blood plasma to Britain by ensuring clean transfusions along with proper aseptic technique to ensure viable plasma dispersals were sent to Britain. The Blood for Britain project was a project to aid British soldiers and civilians by giving U.S. blood to the United Kingdom.
Drew started what would be later known as bloodmobiles, which were trucks containing refrigerators of stored blood; this allowed for greater mobility in terms of transportation as well as prospective donations.
Drew created a central location for the blood collection process where donors could go to give blood. He made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out. He ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination. The Blood for Britain program operated successfully for five months, with total collections of almost 15,000 people donating blood, and with over 5,500 vials of blood plasma. As a result, the Blood Transfusion Betterment Association applauded Drew for his work.
American Red Cross Blood Bank
Drew’s work led to his appointment as director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank in February 1941. The blood bank supplied blood to the U.S. Army and Navy, who ruled that the blood of African-Americans would be accepted but would have to be stored separately from that of whites. Drew objected to the exclusion of African-Americans’ blood from plasma-supply networks, and in 1942 he resigned in protest.
In 1941, Drew’s distinction in his profession was recognized when he became the first African-American surgeon selected to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.
Drew had a lengthy research and teaching career, returning to Freedman’s Hospital and Howard University as a surgeon and professor of medicine in 1942. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1944 for his work on the British and American projects. He was given an honorary doctor of science degree, first by Virginia State College in 1945 then by Amherst in 1947
Beginning in 1939, Drew traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama, to attend the annual free clinic at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital. For the 1950 Tuskegee clinic, Drew drove along with three other black physicians. Drew was driving around 8 a.m. on April 1. Still fatigued from spending the night before in the operating theater, he lost control of the vehicle. After careening into a field, the car somersaulted three times. The three other physicians suffered minor injuries. Drew was trapped with serious wounds; his foot had become wedged beneath the brake pedal. When reached by emergency technicians, he was in shock and barely alive due to severe leg injuries.
Despite a popular myth to the contrary, once repeated on an episode (“Dear Dad… Three“) of the hit TV series M*A*S*H and in the novel Carrion Comfort, Drew’s death was not the result of his having been refused a blood transfusion because of his skin color. This myth spread very quickly since during his time it was very common for blacks to be refused treatment because there were not enough “Negro beds” available or the nearest hospital only serviced whites.
In truth, according to one of the passengers in Drew’s car, John Ford, Drew’s injuries were so severe that virtually nothing could have been done to save him. Ford added that a blood transfusion might have actually killed Drew sooner.
https://www.facebook.com/nyongesande. 2020, September 21. Black African inventions that changed the world yet no one talks about them – Nyongesa Sande. Nyongesa Sande. https://www.nyongesasande.com/black-african-inventions-that-changed-the-world-yet-no-one-talks-about-them/.
Wikipedia Contributors. 2021, September 28. Charles R. Drew. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_R._Drew.
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