Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904- April 1,1950) was an African American doctor and surgeon who helped make vital contributions to the medical field by way of improved blood plasma preservation through blood banks.
He was initially inspired to get into medicine by his older sister Elsie’s illness and unfortunate death from tuberculosis and flu. Further inspiration came on his journey from his own hospitalization from a football injury in college.
Dr. Drew did what he could to get his education considering the climate at the time. Some institutions would not admit African Americans. Going to an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) and other universities within and outside of the U.S. that were open to African American students allowed him opportunities to get the medical education he needed. Becoming an athletic director (he has an extensive history of being a star athlete) as well as a teacher of bio and chemistry at Morgan State University allowed him to have the resources to afford school.
In 1926 Dr. Drew received his AB from Amherst College in Massachusetts. He later graduated 2nd in his class at McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montreal.
His internship and surgical residency at Montreal General Hospital, from 1933-1935, allowed him to work with Professor John Beattie with the use of transfusions for shock and fluid replacement.
In 1935 Dr. Drew became pathology instructor and then surgical instructor at Howard University.
At Columbia University he furthered his studies in relation to blood chemistry and preservation, fluid balance and transfusion with John Schuder. In 1938, Dr. Drew’s dissertation topic was: “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation”. Part of his research allowed him to open an experimental blood bank at Presbyterian Hospital.
In June 1940, he became the first African American to receive a doctorate at Columbia University in Medical Science.
Calls To Action
Dr. Drew’s calling for the urgency of his invention of preserving blood plasma was in September of 1940 when New York area hospitals participated in the Blood for Britain project in preparation for World War II.
Despite his expertise in the area of blood banking, the Red Cross, who participated in the program, refused African American blood donations, including that of Dr. Charles Drew himself. Once accepted later on, African American blood was still separated from white blood.
Dr. Drew fought against these policies saying there was no science to validate the blood segregation policy. He also fought against segregation in medical organizations, American Medical Societies and medical societies.
Recognitions and Achievements
Dr Charles Drew received numerous recognitions including:
- 1941 – Passed American Board of Surgery exams
- 1942 – E.S. Jones Award for Research in Medical Science in Tuskegee, AL
- 1943 – A spot on the American-Soviet Committee on Science
- 1944 – Spingarn Medal from NAACP
- 1945 – Honorary Doctorates from Virginia State College
- 1946 – Elected to the International College of Surgeons
Dr. Drew received a U.S. Patent for Blood Plasma Preservation (U.S. Patent No. 2,389,355).
Dr. Charles Richard Drew passed away from serious injuries from a car accident, April 1, 1950. Despite the short time he was on this earth, he managed to make such a valuable contribution to the world.
Dr. Drew’s significant contributions to the preservation of blood plasma hits home for me personally because I have been a recipient of donor blood plasma for a lupus flare through the process of plasmapheresis (plasma exchange). The treatment helped me recover better than any other treatment I was getting. So, I am super thankful for the technology that was developed in order to make that treatment happen. You can read my full story here (video here).