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Dr. Charles Drew

No Negro blood accepted but—

When the terrible blitz raids of London in September 1940 killed and wounded thousands and an emergency call went out to America for dried blood for transfusions, it was an American Negro surgeon to whom English medical men appealed to organize and send U.S. blood plasma overseas.

No Negro blood accepted but—

When the American Red Cross set up its first blood collection center in New York for our own armed forces, it was a Negro surgeon who was selected to supervise the entire project and expand the system to every city in the U.S.

No Negro blood accepted but—

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and maimed hundreds of American soldiers and sailors, it was blood collected by a Negro surgeon that saved their lives.

—Chicago Defender, September 26, 1942

Born in 1904, Charles Drew excelled as an athlete and student at Amherst and McGill Universities. Graduating with his medical degree from McGill, he interned at the Montreal General Hospital. During this period, his interest in blood transfusion intensified while working with Dr. John Beattie, who was conducting research in that area.

Drew returned to Washington, D.C. as an instructor in pathology at Howard University and Freedmen's Hospital. At Howard, he was selected for a fellowship, which gave him the opportunity to study and continue his research on blood and blood transfusion at Columbia University. In 1940, he earned his Doctor of Medical Science Degree, and his dissertation was on the concept of "banked blood"—storing blood as plasma to increase storage life.

Previous efforts to store blood did not solve the problem of long-term storage, due to the rapid deterioration of the red cells. Refrigeration only extended the life for a couple of hours and freezing destroyed the red cells completely. While the addition of sodium citrate extended the life to several days, the quality of the blood deteriorated.

Focusing his attention on plasma—the liquid portion of blood without the cells—Drew discovered that the plasma could be stored indefinitely as there were no red cells to break down; and the absence of red cells also meant that cross-typing of blood was irrelevant.

At the start of World War II, intense efforts were underway to discover methods to get life-saving blood plasma to the front when he received a request from Dr. John Beattie, his old professor, for a supply of dried plasma for transfusions. As a result, he was selected as the medical supervisor for the "Blood for Britain" project.

Upon successful completion of this project, Drew was appointed director of the American Red Cross program, in charge of blood collection for the armed forces. However, he resigned in opposition to the armed forces' ruling that the collected blood was to be segregated on the basis of race.

In 1941, he returned to teaching at Howard as a full professor. Three years later, he was appointed chief of staff at the Freedmen's Hospital. Numerous honors and awards followed until, on April 1, 1950, Charles Drew died in an automobile accident in North Carolina.
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Black Pioneers of Science and Invention, Louis Haber. Harcourt Brace Jovanivich, 1970.
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Charles Drew (Black Americans of Achievement), Robyn Mahone-Lonesome, Nathan Irvin Huggins (Editor). Chelsea House Publishers, 1990.
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Charles Drew: Life-Saving Scientist (Innovative Minds), Miles J. Shapiro. Raintree/Steck Vaughn, 1997.
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Charles Drew: Pioneer of Blood Plasma, Linda Trice. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, 2000.
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Charles Richard Drew, Pioneer in Blood Research, Richard Hardwick. Scribner, 1967.
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The Hidden Contributors: Black Scientists and Inventors in America, Aaron E. Klein. Doubleday, 1971.
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One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew, Spencie Love. University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
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Search for 'Charles Drew' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
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