Communicator of the Month: Charles R. Drew — Plasma Pioneer

Communicator of the Month: Charles Drew

“Excellence of performance will transcend artificial barriers created by man.”

June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals who have used communications to work for a better future. In 2016, we highlight scientist-advocates whose concern for humanity brought about social change that’s radiated into all of our lives.

Charles R. Drew, M.D., C.M., was an African-American physician, researcher and surgeon whose blood storage and preservation research revolutionized the world of blood transfusions.

In 1904, Drew was born into a Washington, D.C., family that encouraged education and excellence despite the era’s racial segregation and discrimination. In 1933, Drew received an M.D. and Master of Surgery degree from McGill University in Montreal, where he became interested in blood research.

At the time, blood transfusions used fresh, whole blood and went bad quickly. The lack of fresh blood that matched patients’ blood types routinely lead to deaths. In 1938, Drew found that one could separate plasma from whole blood, preserve it and use it in transfusions. This discovery led the way to large-scale blood plasma donation banks during World War II, which saved thousands of lives.

Drew was not immune to the racial realities of the times. Although he became the director for the American Red Cross’ blood collections, the U.S. Department of War directed him to only collect blood from Caucasians. Drew appealed and received a new directive stating that African-Americans could donate, but only if their blood was separated from that of Caucasians. In April 1941, Drew resigned his position in protest and returned to Howard University, where he had taught prior to conducting his breakthrough blood research. That month, the American Board of Surgery gave him his surgeon’s certificate, and that year, he became the first African-American to serve as an examiner on the board. Drew went on to receive many other recognitions of his work.

In 1950, Drew died after a car accident. Contrary to rumors, his death resulted from his severe injuries, not from being refused care and blood transfusions from Caucasian medical personnel.

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