Dr. Charles Drew: The Blood Man

THE BLOOD MAN

By Jemuel Johnson
Contributing Writer

Innovation is always relevant. Being educated—invaluable. In times like these nevertheless, it seems like a person does not actually have to do anything or contribute to society in a meaningful way to become famous or relevant. If someone’s personality is exotic enough or they are offensive enough and there is a smart-phone available, they’re in. Shame on me for my prudish manner and my bias to producers. I’m sorry but some people are worthy of my favoritism.

His visionary work and merits as a physician, researcher and surgeon are worth a moment of our time. As a youth, Dr. Charles Drew did not excel in academics, he did, however in sports. At Dunbar high school in Washington, Dr. Drew was an all-sport in a myriad of fields. He was an elite athlete among his peers in baseball, football, basketball and track. For such feats, he was awarded a scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts. Influenced by the death of his older sister Elsie from tuberculosis and a college football injury, the medical sciences proved to be the field in which he would make a massive contribution.

During 1933-1935, Dr. Drew was mentored by bacteriology professor John Beattie for a surgical residency at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Charles would go on to revolutionize blood preservation and blood banks. By separating the plasma (the fluid, non-cellular portion of blood) from the whole blood where red blood cells live, the storage time for blood was greatly enhanced. It allowed blood to be dehydrated, shipped and freshly constituted. Many times, merely plasma was needed, not the blood, so blood use now had more range.



In 1940, during the Second World War, Dr. Drew was summoned to direct the collection and shipping of blood and plasma to help military and civilian casualties. Centralized at the Presbyterian hospital in New York, he collaborated with other New York hospitals with the aid of Britain, forming Britain’s blood bank. With his expertise expanding in 1941 via being endorsed by the American Red Cross and the National Research Council, Charles directed a national blood banking system.

As America entered into the war, a reality check was eminent for the overachiever. The doctor recruited 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. military. However, the U.S. War Department declared, “It is not advisable to collect and mix Caucasian and Negro blood indiscriminately for later administration to members of the military forces.” So no black blood was acceptable for white blood and wouldn’t even be accepted if separated (even blood was separate but equal back then).

The unscientific nature of the declaration ignited protests from Dr. Drew and he soon resigned. For the next nine years, Charles trained and mentored medical and surgical students at Howard University. His merits make no small list: In 1926 he received his B.A. from Amherst College, he was the University 1926-1928. In 1933 he received his MD and Master of Surgery from McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1933 and by 1940, Drew received a Doctorate in Medical Science from Columbia University for his research and dissertation on blood banking.

During 1944 he was Chief of Staff at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington D.C. and was also awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for work on the British and American blood plasma banks in 1944 that same year. In addition, he was Consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office, as part of a team to assess health care in post-war Europe.

These are a handful of Dr. Charles Drew’s stats. On April 1, 1950, the don of surgeons passed away in a car accident. He was only 46 years old! The thing about it is that I’m not compelled to think about what would’ve been. I’m too impressed by what was already done.

 

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