Did you know Charles Richard Drew 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.
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 exceptional 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.
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.
Did you know as World War II began, Drew received a daunting request via telegram from his former professor, Dr. John Beattie, in Britain, he was asked to 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 and his 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 the armed forces ordered that only Caucasian blood be given to soldiers, he protested when the government refused to change the policy. Then Drew chose to resign.
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]