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Charles Drew-- An American Surgeon and Researcher

"There is absolutely no scientific basis to indicate any difference in human blood from race to race"
--Charles Drew


Charles Drew was born in 1904 to an African-American middle-class family in Washington DC. Drew began working as a newspaper boy in his neighborhood from a young age. He attended Washington's Dunbar High school. Despite the racial and cultural climate, Dunbar was well known for its equality and opportunities for all students. Drew won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts in his last year of high school. He played football and ran track. After graduating, Drew spent two years as a professor of chemistry and biology. He was also the first athletic director and football coach at Morgan College in Baltimore, MD, to earn money for medical school.


When it was time to further his education, Drew applied to Howard University, Harvard Medical School, and McGill University. He didn't have the prerequisites for Howard University, and Harvard wanted to defer him for a year. He looked to begin medical school immediately, so he decided to attend McGill University in Montreal, QB, Canada. Drew worked with John Beattie in his medical journey, researching correlations between transfusions of blood and shock therapy. Throughout their research, it became clear that transfusions were the solution to treating shock victims. However, there was no successful transporting or storage for mass amounts of blood, and this hurdle made t extremely limited to location.


At McGill University, Drew achieved membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, an honor society for medical students. He was ranked second in his graduating class and received The Standard Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree awarded by the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1933. In 1938, Drew received a Rockefeller fellowship to study at Columbia University while training at the Presbyterian Hospital. He created a way to process and preserve blood plasma, or blood without cells. Drew soon realized plasma lasts much longer than whole blood, and it was possible to be stored or "banked" for more extended periods. Drew discovered that plasma could last longer than whole blood and could be stored or "banked" for more extended periods as a time. Drew found that plasma could be dried and reconstituted when needed. His research served as the basis of his doctorate in 1940. Drew became the first African American to earn this degree from Columbia University.


While World War II was in full force in Europe, Drew was asked to lead a medical effort known as "Blood for Britain." He organized collecting and processing blood plasma from various hospitals in New York. Shipments of these life-saving materials were sent overseas to treat casualties in the war. Drew helped collect approximately 14,500 pints of plasma. Drew led another blood bank effort in 1941 for the American Red Cross. He worked on creating a blood bank that the US Military would use. Shortly after beginning his efforts, Drew became frustrated with the military's request to segregate blood donated by African Americans. Segregating the blood was based on opinion and not scientific evidence. At first, the military did not want to use African American blood but ultimately said it could be used for African American soldiers. Drew was upset by that racist policy and resigned his post after only a few months.


After creating two of the first blood banks, Drew returned to Howard University in 1941. There, he became a professor and headed up the university's surgery department. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. Later that year, he became the first African American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.


In 1944, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored Drew with its 1943 Spingarn Medal for an African American's highest and noblest achievement. The award was given to recognize Drew's blood plasma collection and distribution efforts.


Drew remained active and highly regarded in the medical profession throughout the final years of his life. On his way to a medical conference at the Tuskegee Institution, his vehicle crashed near Burlington, NC. His passengers all survived but Drew died from his injuries on April 1, 1990. It's remarkable how much Drew accomplished by the time of his death at the age of 45. Drew was featured in the United States Postal Services Great American stamp series in 1981. His name is also used in educational institutions across the country.


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