Birthday: June 3, 1904
Died At Age: 45
Sun Sign: Gemini
Born in: Washington, D.C.
Famous as: Physician & Surgeon
Spouse/Ex-: Minnie Lenore Robbins
father: Richard Drew
children: Charlene Drew Jarvis
Died on: April 1, 1950
place of death: Burlington
discoveries/inventions: Blood Banking; Blood Transfusions
education: Amherst College, Columbia University, McGill University, Dunbar High School, McGill University Faculty of Medicine
awards: Spingarn Medal
Who was Charles R. Drew?
Charles Richard Drew was a famous American physician, surgeon and medical researcher. He is remembered for his outstanding innovations and researches on blood transfusions. His innovative techniques for better blood storage and researches in blood transfusion helped save thousands of lives during the World War II. His innovations revolutionized the medical profession and inspired many medical aspirants to follow his path. He was the director of ‘Blood for Britain’, the first blood bank project organized in the year 1940 to help British civilians and soldiers. He also served as director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank, which was established by him. Though he had an untimely death at the age of 46, his contributions had significant impact in the field of medicine, and provided a strong base for research on similar lines. Rightly referred to as the ‘Father of the blood bank’, this outstanding personality played a major role in organizing, conceiving and directing the first blood banking program in the history of America.
Childhood & Early Life
Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington D.C in a middle class African-American family to Richard who was a carpet layer and Nora Burrell who was a teacher.
He was the eldest amongst his siblings and grew up in DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
He had keen interest in athletics and won many medals for swimming in his early years. Later, he switched to basketball, football and other sports. In 1922 he did his graduation from Dunbar High School. After his graduation he got a sports scholarship and went to Amherst College in Massachusetts and graduated from here in 1926.
Due to lack of funds he was not able to enroll himself at the medical college. He worked as a biology teacher and a coach in Morgan College (Morgan State University, Baltimore) till 1928. He also became a part of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
In 1928 he applied to medical schools and got through at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He was awarded a prize in neuroanatomy and was also a part of Alpha Omega Alpha, which is a medical honor society.
In 1933, he received his MD degree and also a Master of Surgery degree. He stood 2nd in a class of 127 students.
He then did his residency and internship at Montreal general Hospital and Royal Victoria Hospital respectively. It was here when he met Dr John Beattie with whom he examined issues and problems pertaining to blood transfusions.
In 1935, soon after his father left for heavenly abode, he returned to the United States and joined Howard University’s Medical School as an instructor. He did a surgery residence at Freedmen’s Hospital, the following year in Washington D.C.
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In 1938, he received Rockefeller Fellowship and went to Columbia University for further studies and received his training at Presbyterian Hospital situated in New York City. It was here that he resumed his exploration of blood related matters in collaboration with John Scudder.
He was able to start a method of processing and preserving blood plasma or blood without cells. When plasma is separated from whole blood it can be banked for a longer period of time. He was able to derive a technique by way of which plasma could be dried and remolded as per requirement.
In 1940 he received his doctorate degree with his research “Banked Blood” serving as his doctorate thesis. He graduated at Columbia University and gained his degree in Doctor of Medical Science thus becoming the very first African-American to accomplish this.
In 1941 he became the first African-American surgeon who was selected to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery. He later became a chief surgeon.
Great Britain Blood Plasma Project
In the late 1940s, John Scudder recruited him to help him set up and administer the program for blood storage and its preservation. This was before US entered the World War II and Drew had just gained his doctorate.
Under the project, he was to collect, test and transport large blood plasma quantities that were meant to be distributed in Great Britain. He travelled to New York to lead United States’ “Blood for Britain” project that was meant to aid civilians and British soldiers by providing U.S. blood to the United Kingdom.
Blood collection process was centralized by him where donors could donate blood. Each sample was tested before it was shipped. He took every possible measure to avoid poor handling and contamination of blood plasma. He closely monitored the shipments of these life-saving plasmas to treat war casualties.
For five months, “Blood for Britain” project ran successfully with approximately 15000 people turning donors and approximately 5,000 vials of blood plasma collected.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1939, he married Minnie Lenore Robbins. She was a home economics professor at Spelman College. They were blessed with three daughters and a son. His daughter Charlene Drew Jarvis served as the President of Southeastern University from 1996-2009.
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Drew died on April 1, 1950, as a result of a car crash. He along with three other physicians was heading for Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to attend a conference. Drew was driving the car which lost control and crashed near Burlington, North Carolina. The three other physicians escaped with minor injuries but Drew who was severely injured, succumbed to his injuries within half an hour after being attended at Almance General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina.
His funeral took place at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. on April 5, 1950.
A popular myth regarding his death has been that he was refused a blood transfusion because of his skin color. This rumor spread like fire as in those days it was quite common to refuse treatment to blacks as the hospitals didn’t possess enough “Negro beds”.
Drew received several posthumous honors. There are many schools and medical institutions that have been named after Dr Drew.
In 1981, a postal stamp was issued by the United States Postal Services in its Great Americans Series to honor Drew.
A dry cargo ship of the United States Navy has been named USNS Charles Drew.
In 2002, Drew was listed as one of the 200 Greatest African Americans by Molefi Kete Asante.
In 1966 a school was incorporated in California and that was named Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School, which later became the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
Many medical colleges and schools have been named after him to honor his contribution.