The Gift of Blood

Charles Drew grew up in a middle-class African American family. He was an excellent student and went to Amherst College on an athletic scholarship. After graduating from college, he went to medical school at McGill University.

While at McGill, he worked on a research project connecting shock therapy with blood transfusions. The research proved successful and blood transfusions became accepted as the treatment approach for shock. Unfortunately there was no known approach for the transportation or storage of blood in large quantities.

After receiving his MD degree, Dr. Drew practiced and taught surgical practices. He also began a Doctor of Science degree program in Medicine. His doctoral thesis focused on blood preservation. He discovered that blood plasma could be preserved two months longer than blood itself. The plasma could then be reconstituted when needed. His work earned him the degree of Doctor of Science in Medicine, the first African American to receive this degree.

When World War II began, Dr. Drew was asked to set up a program for collecting blood in the U.S. for use in Britain. He essentially created what we now call bloodmobiles. These were refrigerated trucks which could collect blood donations and deliver them to hospitals and other places of need.

He became the director of the American Red Cross Blood Banks when the U.S. entered World War II. He resigned a year later when the U.S. Military ordered that blood from African Americans would have to be separated from that of whites.

Just imagine how many people worldwide have benefited from lifesaving transfusions of blood. Dr. Drew’s pioneering work has changed the practice of medicine. But for all his achievements, the District of Columbia chapter of the AMA denied him membership because only white doctors were allowed to join. He died in 1950 without ever being accepted into membership. Making a difference in the lives of others should not be restricted to those of a given race, gender, ethnicity, or other aspect of one’s biology.

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“We can choose to be affected by the world or we can choose to affect the world.” – Heidi Wills (Author)

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