Charles Richard Drew
|Born||June 3, 1904|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Died||April 1, 1950 (aged 45)|
|Alma mater||Amherst College, McGill University|
|Known for||Blood banking, blood transfusions|
Morgan State University
Montreal General Hospital
|Doctoral advisor||John Beattie|
Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904 - April 1, 1950) was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of Allied forces' lives during the war. As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.
Drew was born in 1904 into an African-American middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His father, Richard, was a carpet layer and his mother, Nora Burrell, trained as a teacher. Drew and three (two sisters, one brother) of his four younger siblings (three sisters and one brother total) grew up in Washington's largely middle-class and interracial Foggy Bottom neighborhood. From a young age Drew began work as a newspaper boy in his neighborhood, helping deliver over a thousand newspapers to his neighbors per day. As a freshman in Washington D.C. Drew was enrolled in Dunbar High School which was knowingly notorious for its equality and opportunities for all, given the racially segregated climate at the time. From 1920 until his marriage in 1939, Drew's permanent address was in Arlington County, Virginia, although he graduated from Washington's Dunbar High School in 1922 and resided elsewhere during that period of time.
Drew won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he played on the football as well as the track and field team, and later graduated in 1926. After college, Drew spent two years (1926-1928) as a professor of chemistry and biology, the first athletic director, and football coach at the historically black private Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland, to earn the money to pay for medical school.
For his medical career Drew applied to Howard University, Harvard Medical School and later McGill University. Drew lacked some prerequisites for Howard University and Harvard wanted to defer him a year; Thus being denied admission into Howard University on the basis of lacking prerequisites and not wanting to prolong his medical career for a year due to a deferral from Harvard, Drew decided to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was during this stage in his medical journey that Drew was able to work with John Beattie, who was conducting research regarding the potential correlations between transfusions of blood and shock therapy. Shock occurs as the amount of blood in the body rapidly declines which can be due to a variety of factors such as a wound or lack of fluids (dehydration). As the body goes into shock both blood pressure and body temperature decrease which then causes a lack of blood flow due to a loss of oxygen in the body's tissues and cells. Eventually it became clear that transfusions were the solution to treating victims of shock but at the time there was no successful method of transportation for blood or its mass storage, leaving transfusions to be extremely limited to location.
At McGill University he achieved membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, a scholastic honor society for medical students, ranked second in his graduating class of 127 students, and received the standard Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree awarded by the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1933.
Drew's first appointment as a faculty instructor was for pathology at Howard University from 1935 to 1936. He then joined Freedman's Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University, as an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon. In 1938, Drew began graduate work at Columbia University in New York City on the award of a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery. He then began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science at Surgery at Columbia University. He spent time doing research at Columbia's Presbyterian Hospital and wrote a doctoral thesis, "Banked Blood: A Study on Blood Preservation," based on an exhaustive study of blood preservation techniques. It was through this blood preservation research where Drew realized blood plasma was able to be preserved, two months, longer through de-liquification, or the separation of liquid blood from the cells. When ready for use the plasma would then be able to return to its original state via reconstitution. This thesis earned him his Doctor of Science in Medicine degree in 1940, becoming the first African American to do so. The District of Columbia chapter of the American Medical Association allowed only white doctors to join, consequently "... Drew died without ever being accepted for membership in the AMA."
In late 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II and just after earning his doctorate, Drew was recruited by John Scudder to help set up and administer an early prototype program for blood storage and preservation. Here Drew was able to apply his thesis to aid in the blood preservation and transportation. He was to collect, test, and transport large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in the United Kingdom. Drew understood that plasma extraction from blood required both centrifugation and liquid extraction. Each extraction was conducted under controlled conditions to eliminate risk of contamination. Air concealment, ultraviolet light and Merthiolate were all used to mitigate the possibility of plasma contamination.
Drew went to New York City as the medical director of the United States' Blood for Britain project. It was here that Drew helped set the standard for other hospitals donating blood plasma to Britain by ensuring clean transfusions along with proper aseptic technique to ensure viable plasma dispersals were sent to Britain. The Blood for Britain project was a project to aid British soldiers and civilians by giving U.S. blood to the United Kingdom.
Drew started what would be later known as bloodmobiles, which were trucks containing refrigerators of stored blood; this allowed for greater mobility in terms of transportation as well as prospective donations.
Drew created a central location for the blood collection process where donors could go to give blood. He made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out. He ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination. The Blood for Britain program operated successfully for five months, with total collections of almost 15,000 people donating blood, and with over 5,500 vials of blood plasma. As a result, the Blood Transfusion Betterment Association applauded Drew for his work.
Out of Drew's work, he was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank in February 1941. The blood bank being in charge of blood for use by the U.S. Army and Navy, he disagreed with the exclusion of the blood of African-Americans from plasma-supply networks. In 1942, Drew resigned from his posts after the armed forces ruled that the blood of African-Americans would be accepted but would have to be stored separately from that of whites.
Drew had a lengthy research and teaching career, returning to Freedman's Hospital and Howard University as a surgeon and professor of medicine in 1942. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1944 for his work on the British and American projects. He was given an honorary doctor of science degree, first by Virginia State College in 1945 then by Amherst in 1947.
In 1939, Drew married Minnie Lenore Robbins, a professor of home economics at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, whom he had met earlier during that year. They had three daughters and a son. His daughter Charlene Drew Jarvis served on Council of the District of Columbia from 1979 to 2000, was the president of Southeastern University from 1996 until 2009, and was a president of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Beginning in 1939, Drew traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama, to attend the annual free clinic at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital. For the 1950 Tuskegee clinic, Drew drove along with three other black physicians. Drew was driving around 8 a.m. on April 1. Still fatigued from spending the night before in the operating theater, he lost control of the vehicle. After careening into a field, the car somersaulted three times. The three other physicians suffered minor injuries. Drew was trapped with serious wounds; his foot had become wedged beneath the brake pedal. When reached by emergency technicians, he was in shock and barely alive due to severe leg injuries.
Drew was taken to Alamance General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina. He was pronounced dead a half hour after he first received medical attention. Drew's funeral was held on April 5, 1950, at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Despite a popular myth to the contrary, once repeated on an episode ("Dear Dad... Three") of the hit TV series M*A*S*H and in the novel Carrion Comfort, Drew's death was not the result of his having been refused a blood transfusion because of his skin color. This myth spread very quickly since during his time it was very common for blacks to be refused treatment because there were not enough "Negro beds" available or the nearest hospital only serviced whites.
In truth, according to one of the passengers in Drew's car, John Ford, Drew's injuries were so severe that virtually nothing could have been done to save him. Ford added that a blood transfusion might have actually killed Drew sooner.
Numerous schools and health-related facilities, as well as other institutions, have been named in honor of Dr. Drew.
Medical and higher education
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