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Who Developed Improved Techniques for Blood Storage?

Many casualties in the second world war were avoided due to the advancement of blood storage, giving it the capability to be shipped overseas. But did you know that the proponent of the technique was also the first African American director of the Red Cross?

Charles Drew improved blood storage and distribution techniques, which helped save many Allied troops in World War II. He became the first African American director of the Red Cross in 1942 but resigned due to excluding African American blood.

Who Was Charles Richard Drew?

Charles Drew was born on June 3, 1904. He grew up in Washington, DC. Growing up in a low-income family, Drew used to contribute to the household income by delivering newspapers in the neighborhood. His ability to coordinate and manage people helped him and ten of his friends create a network to deliver 2,000 newspapers daily.

Drew attended the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, a historically Black school. He excelled in all the sports he joined, landing a partial scholarship at Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1922. He also excelled in both track and football, earning the Howard Hill Mossman and Thomas W. Ashley trophies for the college. By 1926 Drew graduated and was one of only sixteen African Americans who did at that time.

Drew took up medicine in 1928 at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He chose the University over being on the waitlist of Harvard University at that time. In 1933, he received his degrees of Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery. He did his internship in the Royal Victoria and Montreal General Hospitals but soon moved to Howard University as an instructor in Pathology due to his father’s death in 1934. (Source: NCBI)

Drew continued his medical career, creating the first two blood banks and eventually becoming the head of Howard University’s surgery department. He became the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital and became the first African American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.

Drew received the 1943 Spingarn Medal for the highest and noblest achievement to recognize his blood plasma collection and distribution work. Dr. Drew passed away on April 1, 1950, at the age of forty-five. Drew and three other colleagues attended a medical conference at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. His vehicle crashed in nearby Burlington, Alabama, ending his life.

Drew went on to accept several posthumous honors and was even included in the 1981 USPS Great Americans stamp series. (Source: Biography)

Father of the Blood Bank

Dr. Drew examined problems and issues with blood transfusions during his internship at the Royal Victoria Hospital. His study with Dr. Beattie was put on hold because of his father’s death. But upon receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train in Presbyterian Hospital in 1938, Drew continued his studies on blood transfusion.

Drew developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma, or blood without cells. Plasma lasts much longer than whole blood, making it possible to be stored or banked for more extended periods. Drew was asked to head a special medical effort known as Blood for Britain with his development of blood plasma. He organized sending blood plasma across the seas to treat casualties of war.

In 1941, Drew again headed another blood bank effort for the Red Cross. The action was to be used for U.S. personnel. He soon became frustrated as the army did not want to use African American blood, causing him to resign from his post. (Source: Biography)

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