Drew, Charles Richard (b. June 3, 1904, Washington, D.C.; d. April 1, 1950, Burlington, N.C.), African American surgeon and hematologist who made pioneering discoveries about blood plasma and set up blood banks in the 1930s and 1940s.

Charles Richard Drew became interested in studying blood as a student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, during the late 1920s and early 1930s. At that time, medical science had not yet determined how to preserve blood, a dilemma that became Drew's mission. Later, while interning at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and pursuing a doctorate at Columbia University, Drew discovered that unlike whole blood, which deteriorates after a few days in storage, blood plasma the liquid portion of the blood without cells can be preserved for long periods of time and substituted for whole blood in transfusions.

In the late 1930s Drew set up an experimental blood bank at Presbyterian Hospital and wrote a thesis entitled "Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation," which earned him a Doctor of Science in Medicine from Columbia University in 1940. Drew's medical breakthrough helped save thousands of lives by making more blood available to the many people in need of transfusions.

Drew's discovery came at an opportune time. In 1939 World War II broke out in Europe and by 1940 the British, in desperate need of blood in order to save the lives of injured soldiers, turned to the United States for help. The Blood Transfusion Association chose Drew as the medical supervisor of the Blood for Britain program. Drew arranged for large amounts of plasma to be flown to England and set up several blood banks there.

After of the success of his blood preservation and transfusion efforts in Europe, Drew was enlisted by the American Red Cross in 1941 to establish a blood bank program in the United States. That same year, the U.S. War Department declared that "it is not advisable to collect and mix Caucasian and Negro blood indiscriminately for later administration to members of the military forces." Drew protested the segregation of blood and, as a result, was forced to resign his position as director of the Red Cross Blood Bank Program. He argued, "The blood of individual human beings may differ by blood groupings, but there is absolutely no scientific basis to indicate any differences according to race." Not until 1949 did the U.S. military stop the segregation of banked blood.

Before becoming an internationally renowned hematologist, Charles Drew established himself as a star athlete and a surgeon. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Drew's accomplishments in football, basketball, baseball, and track at Dunbar High School earned him an athletic scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts. As in high school, Drew was voted the best-all-around athlete at Amherst and, in 1926, graduated with highest honors. Between 1926 and 1928, he coached football and served as athletic director at Morgan College in Baltimore while teaching biology and chemistry.

Drew embarked on his surgical studies in 1928 at McGill University Medical School, where he also dominated several sports. Drew was named to McGill's medical honorary society and was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship before receiving M.D. and Master of Surgery degrees in 1933. In 1935, after interning for two years at Canadian hospitals, Drew accepted a teaching position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Three years later he won a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation that funded his famous studies on blood. Following his World War II service and work with the American Red Cross, Drew returned to Howard, where he taught and practiced surgery until his death in an automobile accident in 1950. Drew was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)'s prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1944.

 

Contributed By:

Aaron Myers