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Inventor Dr. Charles Drew had medical genius in his blood

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Inventor Dr. Charles Drew had medical genius in his blood
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Dr. Charles Drew discovered the method by which blood could be reduced to plasma, stored and reused. He was issued a patent for preserving blood by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Nov.10, 1942, in the midst of World War II.

Dr. Drew was an African-American surgeon, well-known educator and medical phenom. Born June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C, he received his undergraduate degree from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1926. After securing enough money and scholarships, he entered McGill University Medical School in Canada.

Dr. Drew received his medical degree in 1933, graduating second in his class. He earned both his doctorate in medicine and a master’s degree in surgery at the same time. He later studied at the Montreal General Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Canada. His research centered on the difficulties of successful blood transfusions.

As the first African-American to receive a doctorate degree from Columbia University, he began his blood bank research in 1938 at Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital and developed a method to increase the shelf life of blood plasma by the age of 38. By 1940, Drew was chosen to lead the “Blood for Britain” campaign during World War II that saved thousands of soldiers’ lives by collecting and transporting blood plasma.

According to the Ferris University, during the war, he was appointed supervisor of the Blood Transfusion Association for New York City and oversaw the “Blood for Britain” program, which saved the lives of many wounded soldiers. This success led to his appointment as director of the Red Cross Blood Bank and assistant director of the National Research Council, responsible for blood collection for the United States Navy and Army.

Not without controversy of the times, he resigned in protest of the United States War Department’s policy that African-American blood should be separated from the blood of white Americans.

Dr. Drew knew this practice to be racist, meritless and counter to the medical science of blood transfusions. His invention made blood banks possible and saved numerous lives during World War II and after. It was widely used by the Red Cross, which continues to rely upon his discovery to this day.

Genius is in the family blood

Dr. Drew’s daughter, Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, recently told PBS she appreciates knowing that her father’s work could be critical to saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really exciting when we began to understand that the antibodies in the plasma were antibodies that were important in the treatment of COVID-19,” she said. “We understood the reverberation of the work, which he did early on in the 1940s.”

She’s worked at the National Institute of Mental Health, served on the city council in Washington D.C., and was the president of Southeastern University.

Jarvis now works with Red Cross chapters to educate people about the importance of blood donations.  Jarvis became a neuroscientist to carry on her father’s legacy in a scientific field.

Dr. Charles Drew died young and to some, unnecessarily.

In 1950, Dr. Drew died in a car accident on the way to lecture at a conference in Tuskegee, Alabama. His death was devastating to his family and the medical community, Drew was taken to Alamance General Hospital, where the meager conditions and inefficient medical equipment didn’t offer the white doctors a fair chance to save his life.

Almost immediately rumors spread that Dr. Drew, the internationally famous inventor of the blood bank, had died because a white hospital refused to give him a blood transfusion. To many African Americans the story was believable.

In 1950 the South was still rigidly segregated, and Black Americans were often denied treatment in hospitals — sometimes because the hospitals did not have vacant “Negro beds,” and sometimes because the hospitals were for Whites only. Dr. Drew did in fact receive emergency medical attention, but many Black folks did not at the time. His family wrote letters to the doctors thanking them for their attempts.

Dr. Charles Drew died at age 45.

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