Determining how many hundreds of thousands of people that would have lost their lives without the contributions of African-American inventor Dr. Charles Drew is an impossible task. Dr. Charles Drew was a physician, researcher, and surgeon who revolutionized the understanding of blood plasma leading to the invention of blood banks.
He was born in Washington, D.C in the year 1904. Charles Drew, the physician excelled from early on in both intellectual and athletic pursuits, Drew went to Columbia University to do his Ph.D. on blood storage after becoming a doctor and working as a college instructor.
His thesis was titled ‘Banked Blood’. Upon completion he invented a method of separating and storing plasma, allowing it to be dehydrated for later use. It was the first time that a doctorate was awarded to an African-American by Columbia University.
When World War II started, Drew was called upon to put his techniques into practice. He came into limelight as the leading authority on mass transfusion and processing methods. He then went on to helm of the American Red Cross blood bank. Drew protested and resigned when the Armed Forces ordered that only Caucasian blood be given to soldiers.
Drew accepted a fellowship at Columbia University in 1938. At the university, he developed a novel method for processing and storing blood plasma which allowed it to be dehydrated, shipped, and then reconstituted just before transfusions.
It was an astounding breakthrough. Before then, unprocessed blood was perishable and would become unusable after about a week. The innovation was immediately put into practical use.
At the start of World War II, Drew received a challenging request via telegram from his former professor, Dr. John Beattie, in Britain: The message read: “Secure 5,000 ampules of dried plasma for transfusion.”
That amount was more than the total global supply. Drew was able to meet the challenge. He organized an American “Blood for Britain” campaign for the beleaguered nation by September 1940. This success took Drew to the helm of the American Red Cross blood bank.
He succeeded in recruiting 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. military. He, however, found himself up against a narrow-minded policy of segregating the blood supply based on a donor’s race. When the government refused to change the policy despite his protestations, Drew chose to resign.
Drew was the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital and taught at Howard University’s medical school. A generation of students were inspired by him. He received 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.
Although his death came in a tragic way, his contribution to the world of medicine has made him immortal. Every time a human is saved through blood transfusion, his name is echoed in the stars.
Despite his contributions, it is most malicious not to find his name in the top history archives of this world. Children are not taught about him in schools. And even adults don’t know anyone like him ever existed. Instead of the world to celebrate people like him, what you find are Euro-centric historians who would do anything possible to discredit him for his work.
But we who know better of the contributions of the Black man and his descendants to the field of science and technology will continue in our work of bringing men as Dr. Charles Drew to the fore of historical discussions. Through us, men and women like him will live forever.
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