Charles Richard Drew Biography (1904-1950)


Charles Drew, noted authority on hematology and human blood transfusion, developed a method for storing blood plasma and thus became known as the "Fatherof the Blood Bank." Drew also exerted his influence on the American Medical Association to rid its affiliates of racism. Born the eldest of five childrenon June 3, 1904 in Washington, D. C., he was the son of Richard Thomas Drew,a carpet installer, and Nora Rosella Burrell Drew, a teacher. As a child, Drew earned money with a paper route, expanding his territory by hiring other boys to help him deliver papers. He won swimming medals in elementary school and graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 1922 as star halfback with honors in football, basketball, track, and baseball. On an athletic scholarship, Drew waited tables so that he could complete undergraduate work at Amherst College where he earned the Mossman and Thomas W. Ashley trophies, Canadian Championship, and Pentathlon Award for athletic prowess in track and football.

An indifferent student in his early years, he was so taken by his studies inbiology that he resolved to become a doctor, although he lacked the funds formedical training. Following graduation in 1926, he taught chemistry and biology and directed the sports program at Baltimore's Morgan State College. In 1933, paying his way by working as a referee, he enrolled at McGill Universityin Montreal, where he earned medical and surgical degrees, a Rosenwald Fellowship, the Williams Prize, a prize in neuroanatomy, and membership in the medical honor society. Drew completed an internship at the Royal Victoria Hospital, followed by a year of surgical residency at Montreal General, where he concentrated on blood typing, surgery, and transfusion. He taught pathology atFreedmen's Hospital and was a professor of surgery at Howard University in Washington, D. C. In 1938 he received a Rockefeller fellowship at New York's Presbyterian Hospital. While serving as a General Education Board Fellow at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Drew married teacher Minnie Lenore Robbinsand began a family. Professionally, Drew concentrated on surgical shock, blood preservation, and the use of plasma in transfusion. He also opened Columbia's first blood bank. Drew completed a Sc.D. in medical science in 1940. Hisdissertation described the preservation of banked blood, which he learned about from work done at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. He published his findings in "Plasma Potassium Content of Cardiac Blood at Death" (1939) and "Studies in Blood Preservation: Some Effects of Carbon Dioxide" (1940).

At the beginning of World War II, Drew took a leave of absence from Howard University to perfect plasma use and blood processing and storage methods for both England and France. During the height of Hitler's assault on England, hedirected the "Blood for Britain" drive and organized a local civil defense team. His interest in trauma medicine led to the creation of lifesaving blood banks and an appointment with the American Red Cross. In 1941, he directed RedCross blood collection and the use of dried plasma for the U. S. military. Because of a regulation requiring that blood from non-white donors be stored separately from Caucasian blood and not be administered to military wounded, he spoke out against the absurdity of blood segregation. He was forced to resign his post after he took a firm stand on the fact that blood cannot be identified by race in the laboratory. Returning to Howard University, Drew, humiliated and despairing, gave up research and returned to the classroom, where hedistinguished himself through warm, personable relationships with students.He rose to head of surgery at Freedmen's Hospital and, in 1942, became the first African-American to serve as examiner for the American Board of Surgery.This honor was followed by the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, honorary doctorates from Virginia State College and Amherst College, and a consultancy with the army surgeon general, during which he upgraded European medical facilities. He performed community service at local hospitals, spoke against racial bias in medical hiring, and published articles on hematology.

On April 1, 1950, while traveling with three associates to deliver a speech at the Andrew Memorial Clinic of Tuskegee Institute, the car Drew was drivingcrashed when he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road outside Burlington, North Carolina. Ironically, he was turned away from a nearby hospital that refused to treat African-Americans and died, in dire need of a blood transfusion, en route to another hospital. His colleagues honored him with the Charles R. Drew Memorial Fund, which maintains scholarships and lectures. Schools in eight states have been named for him, a Drew clinic operates in Brooklyn, and Howard University boasts a Drew Hall.

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