Home > Black History Month 2011 > Anyone who has received transfusion owes life to Black man’s research

Anyone who has received transfusion owes life to Black man’s research

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments
Portrait of Charles R. Drew, painted by Betsy ...

Image via Wikipedia

Dr. Charles  Drew was a practicing physician and pathology teacher at Howard University when he won a fellowship to Columbia University in New York. His two years of blood-plasma research revolutionized medical practices to this day. 

Dr. Drew discovered a way to extend the “shelf-life” of blood plasma. Before his research, blood could not be stored for more than three days because the red-blood cells deteriorated quickly. Drew found out blood could be stored longer if the plasma (liquid portion) was separated from the whole blood (portion with red blood cells) and refrigerated separately. He also found out that everyone has the same plasma. So even if a person’s blood type (A, B, AB or O) didn’t match, a patient who didn’t need a full blood transfusion could receive plasma from anyone.

Dr. Drew was the first African American to receive a doctorate from Columbia University, and his discoveries established him as an expert worldwide. The British government asked him to set it its first blood bank. Dr. Drew’s work is crediting with saving the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers during World War II.

Back in the states, Dr. Drew supervised the first blood-donor project for the American Red Cross in New York City.  But he quit when he learned that the Red Cross, bowing to pressure from the Army and the Navy, refused to accept plasma from Blacks.

Dr. Drew returned to Washington and the all-Black Freedman’s Hospital, where he became chief of surgery. He died in 1950 in a car crash. At least 10 elementary and high schools, one medical school and several medical facilities across the nation are named after this brilliant medical researcher.

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  1. gyasi715
    February 8, 2011 at 11:33 pm | #1

    Didn’t he die from blood loss because the hospital he went to had not adopted his method of prolonging the shelf life of blood/plasma? Regardless, brilliant man!

    • Miz D
      February 10, 2011 at 12:26 am | #2

      I have heard that story too, for many years. Now it is “disputed” (or maybe rewritten). The “blood loss” story was reported back then, even making its way into Time magazine. From what I have researched, Dr. Drew was returned from an annual medical junket. He was behind the wheel and overly tired. He lost control of the car (probably fell asleep momentarily) and the car flipped over off the road. There were two other doctors in the car who were less seriously injured and attended to him, but he had a broken neck, other serious injuries (?) and went into shock. When transported to the all-Black hospital, he was not denied transfusions (witnesses alleged that he received two) but his injuries were too massive and he died.

      Now this may be an attempt to re-write history again, but at the moment I can’t prove that. It actually seems unlikely that an all-Black hospital in the Deep South would be so up-to-date on the technology at the time. Just sayin… But I’ll keep digging. After all, that is why I am focusing on these folks. The truth has a strange habit of being overlooked.

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