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Charles Drew

Charles Drew

“As you know, there is no scientific basis for the separation of the bloods of different races except on the basis of the individual blood types.”

Charles Drew’s pioneering methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion saved countless lives during World War II.

Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904, to Richard Drew, a carpet layer, and Nora Burrell, a teacher, in Washington, D.C. He excelled in the classroom and won medals for swimming, and later played basketball, football and other sports. He won a sports scholarship to Amherst College. He studied, taught at Howard University and worked for years to save enough money to pay for medical school. He was accepted at McGill University in Canada, where he began researching blood groupings and blood types.

Drew’s contribution to the World War II blood drive “Blood for Britain” transformed the battlefront. Before he created storable blood plasma, surgeons and field medics needed to have a ready supply of fresh blood on hand for transfusions. Blood was supplied in a strip or as a powder. They also needed to know the patient’s blood type. Blood products had a limited shelf life before they would start to spoil. Today, plasma can be stored and shipped great distances, creating a ready substitute for blood whenever or wherever it is needed.

Banked blood

In 1940, Drew’s dissertation, “Banked Blood:” A Study in Blood Preservation,” earned him a doctorate of science in medicine from Columbia University. He served as director of “Blood for Britain,” created the same year. It was the world’s first blood bank. He created the American Red Cross Blood Bank and was the first African-American surgeon to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery, and later became a chief surgeon.

Drew was killed in an automobile accident April 1, 1950, in North Carolina. Driver error was a contributing factor in the accident. Apparently the car was speeding when it flipped several times, pinning Drew inside the vehicle. He was transported to a medical center in Burlington, where he was pronounced dead.

Drew was traveling to a free clinic he attended annually in Tuskegee, Alabama, with three traveling companions who were in the vehicle with him and only suffered minor injuries.



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