Charles Drew: Banked Blood

Summer Blog Post #5 - Monday, August 31, 2020

Dr. Charles R. Drew born on June 3, 1904, was the eldest son of a carpet-laying father and a teaching mother. As a naturally athletic kid, Dr. Drew grew up playing several sports which would lead him to receive a sports scholarship at Amherst College where he would compete on the track and football teams. After graduating from Amherst in 1926, Dr. Drew was held back from attending medical school due to financial obstacles. In the meantime, he attended Morgan College (now Morgan State University) where he would work as a biology and chemistry instructor in addition to coaching the football team.

Now having enough money to pay for medical school, he attended McGill University where he would make several accomplishments including membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society, ranking second in his graduating class, and receiving the Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree in 1933.

He completed an internship and residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital where he spent time studying problems associated with blood transfusions. In 1935 after the death of his father, he returned to America as a teacher at Howard University’s medical program and completed residency in surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital a year later.

In 1938, he attended Columbia University to complete his Rockefeller fellowship in surgery. During his time there, with John Scudder, Dr. Drew developed an innovative technique for processing blood that led to his doctoral thesis “Banked Blood”. This approach allowed blood plasma or blood to be preserved without cells by drying them and making them readily restorable when needed.

In the late 1940s, an increasing need for blood during World War II encouraged Dr. Drew to lead the “Blood for Britain” initiative where carefully organized American blood would be shipped to treat soldiers and civilians overseas.

Because of his great work the year before, in 1941 he was then appointed director of the first-ever American Red Cross Blood Bank. However, there was discrimination within this system as the blood of African-Americans was excluded from the supply. Before resigning in 1942, he contributed to the ruling that African-American blood would be accepted but segregated from that of white Americans.

In 1950, Dr. Drew tragically died in a car accident but his efforts have not been disregarded. Appreciation for his work has been expressed in the naming of the Charles Richard Drew Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., the USNS Charles Drew ship of the US Navy, and Parc Charles-Drew in Montreal among other honorary demonstrations.

Dr. Charles Drew’s story is one driven by passion and purpose. From the time he was in college, he always did what he cared for and what was important to him. He found a balance between achieving his goals in medicine while also enjoying time playing and coaching football. By investing time and effort into what he was passionate about, he positioned himself to receive scholarships to move him along in his journey and make discoveries that would become incredibly useful and life-saving. He was a man who always did what he thought was right and for his efforts, he was able to leave an inspiring legacy that we continue to honor today. He has taught us that making your mark in this world can be done through small, thoughtful actions performed with focus and perseverance.

By: Anonymous