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.