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Charles Richard Drew

Born:   1904, Washington, DC
Died:   1950, Burlington, NC

Did You Know?

Contrary to popular legend, Drew was not denied a blood transfusion by an all-white hospital. His injuries from his car accident were so severe that the physicians attending him could not save him.

Photos: (right) American Red Cross

Blood Banks

This surgeon and researcher developed a new understanding of blood plasma, allowing blood to be stored for transfusions. His efforts made the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of people.

Star Student
Charles Richard Drew was a physician, researcher, and surgeon who revolutionized the understanding of blood plasma -- and found a practical application for his work in the concept of the blood bank. Born in 1904, Drew was the oldest child of a Washington, D.C. carpet installer and a schoolteacher. An excellent student and athlete, Drew finished college at Amherst in 1926. He applied to medical school but could not afford the tuition, and instead taught college-level science in Baltimore for several years to save money. In 1929, he started medical school at McGill University in Canada.

Important Research
In 1938, Drew accepted a fellowship at Columbia University. There he developed a method for processing and storing blood plasma that allowed it to be dehydrated, shipped, and then reconstituted just before transfusions. It was a tremendous breakthrough. Up until then, unprocessed blood was perishable and would become unusable after about a week. Drew's innovation would immediately be put into practical use.

Blood for Britain
As World War II began, Drew received a daunting request via telegram from his former professor, Dr. John Beattie, in Britain: "Secure 5,000 ampules of dried plasma for transfusion." That was more than the total global supply. Drew met the challenge, organizing an American "Blood for Britain" campaign for the beleaguered nation by September 1940. Drew's success took him to the helm of the American Red Cross blood bank. He recruited 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. military. Yet he found himself up against a narrow-minded policy of segregating the blood supply based on a donor's race. When he protested and the government refused to change the policy, Drew chose to resign.

Teacher and Mentor
Drew taught at Howard University's medical school and became chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. He inspired a generation of students, receiving honorary degrees and awards including the prestigious Springarn Medal. Later, he was elected to the International College of Surgeons, and traveled through post-war Europe to assess hospitals and advise the U.S. Surgeon General. He died in a car accident in March 1950, while driving to a medical meeting.

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