• WBW Honors: Charles Drew

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    As a noted surgeon and scientist, Charles Drew was responsible for creating the technology to store blood for long periods of time. His lifelong concern for the necessary transport and storage of blood and plasma made him a pioneer in his field and a valued scientist in world history. Drew saved thousands of soldiers’ lives in World War Two, when he developed his technology and techniques during the Battle of Britain; and millions more since then. At the same time, Drew battled segregation and bigory at home. Dr. Charles Drew and Barack Obama are, of course, alike in that they both accomplished legendary African-American firsts in the face of prejudice. But President Barack Obama may indeed accomplish a similar lifesaving legacy if he ends the bloody wars begun by the previous administration.

    Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3rd, 1904 in Washington D.C. Drew first discovered his passion for medicine at Amherst College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1926. Drew saved money for medical school by taking instruction jobs and working hard labor before enrolling at McGill University Medical School in Montreal. He finished his residency at Montreal General Hospital and then moved to his hometown of Washington D.C. to serve as a professor at Howard University. But it was during his fellowship at Columbia Presbyterian where he endeavored his groundbreaking research about blood transfusions. His thesis project, “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation,” earned Drew a Doctorate of Science in medicine from Columbia University in 1940, and then proceeded to change the world.

    At the outset of World War II, Drew’s work with plasma was critical in helping the United States and their allied forces to save soldiers’ lives. Drew became an integral member of the American Red Cross in 1941, but later denounced his affiliation when the U.S. War Department declared that blood should be segregated by race. After making his commitment to soldiers of all colors, Drew was disheartened that his countrymen would not support his efforts. In 1946, he was elected to the International College of Surgeons after winning the NAACP’s Spingard Medal two years prior. On his way to a conference at Tuskegee in 1950, Drew fell asleep at the wheel, and his car wrecked. He died on April 1st of that year. Drew did not, as myth has it, die because he was refused a blood transfusion.

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