GDBIT Showcase: Dr. Charles Drew, an American treasure

Helping blood banks worldwide
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For the month of February, we’ll showcase a series of inspirational black people with powerful stories. Written by a member of our GoDaddy Black in Technology (GDBIT) group, this feature highlights Dr. Charles Drew.

Dr. Charles Drew HeadshotBorn in Washington, D.C., Dr. Charles Drew was an African-American physician who developed various ways to process and store blood plasma in blood banks. In his youth, he was a great athletic talent, but knew early on that he would go into science.

Becoming Dr. Charles Drew

When Charles graduated from undergrad in 1926 — but did not have enough money to pursue a medical career — he worked as a biology instructor and a coach for Morgan College, now Morgan State University, in Baltimore for two years. In 1928, he applied to medical schools and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Graduating in 1933, Charles was second in his class and earned both Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees. During this time, he studied with Dr. John Beattie, and they examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions.

After his father’s death, Dr. Drew returned to the United States. He became an instructor at Howard University’s medical school in 1935. The following year, he did a surgery residence at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., in addition to his work at the university.

Processing and preserving blood plasma

In 1938, Dr. Drew studied at Columbia University and trained at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. There, he continued his exploration of blood-related matters with John Scudder.

He developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma, or blood without cells.

 

As World War II raged in Europe, Dr. Drew directed the blood plasma programs of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, but resigned after a court ruled that blood of African-Americans would be segregated. Even though he saved countless lives, Charles was still told that he was not good enough.

After creating two of the first blood banks, he returned to Howard University in 1941. He served as a professor there, heading up the university’s department of surgery. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital. Later that year, he became the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.

NAACP honors

In 1944, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored Dr. Drew with its 1943 Spingarn Medal for “the highest and noblest achievement” by an African-American “during the preceding year or years.” The award was given in recognition of his blood plasma collection and distribution efforts.

For the final years of his life, Dr. Drew remained an active and highly regarded medical professional. He continued to serve as the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital and a professor at Howard University. On April 1, 1950, he and three other physicians attended a medical conference at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Dr. Drew was behind the wheel when his vehicle crashed near Burlington, N.C. His passengers survived, but he succumbed to his injuries.

Dr. Charles Drew was only 45 at the time of his death, and it is remarkable how much he was able to accomplish in such a limited amount of time. As the Reverend Jerry Moore said at Dr. Drew’s funeral, he had “a life which crowds into a handful of years’ significance, so great, men will never be able to forget it.”

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