Plasma Pioneer: Charles Drew

As the pioneer of modern blood storage and transfusions, Charles Drew demonstrated excellence in education and medical research throughout his life. He was born to to a middle class African American Family in 1904. His father was a carpet layer, and his mother was trained as a teacher. Charles Drew was an outstanding athlete and was awarded an athletics scholarship to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts. Following his undergraduate studies, he worked at Morgan College as a professor and athletic director to earn money for medical school.

One of his most famous quotes was, “Excellence of performance will transcend artificial barriers created by man.”

Here are five key facts about Charles Drew as we celebrate his life and legacy during Black History Month:

Research: While earning his MD at Columbia in the 1930s, he conducted research on blood plasma. He wrote a thesis at the Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital called “Banked Blood” on techniques for processing and storing large quantities of blood. Storing large quantities of blood became known as blood banks. This was especially critical during WW II fro the Allied Forces.

Work: Just before the US entered World War II, Charles Drew went to New York City to work as the Medical Director for the Blood for Britain project. The initiative collected, tested, and transported large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in the United Kingdom. The program operated successfully for five months, with almost 15,000 people donating blood and over 5,500 vials of blood plasma.

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Death: Beginning in 1939, Dr. Drew began driving to Tuskegee, AL to attend their annual free clinic. In 1950, he was driving with 3 other physicians. He was exhausted from spending the previous night operating and lost control of the vehicle. The vehicle careened into a field and flipped three times. He was pronounced dead 30 minutes after receiving medical attention.

Legacy: Despite a common myth, Charles Drew’s death was not the result of his having been refused a blood transfusion because of his skin color. In addition to the number of K-12 schools and academies named for him, several foundations and medical institutions bear his name. He has also had US postage stamps, Navy vessels and bridges named after him.

We celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Charles Drew throughout the year. His research and leadership in medicine and life science has directly saved the lives of millions of people across the globe. Like many pioneers, his hard work and dedication will resonate for decades to come.

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