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“The history of blood transfusion begins, as most history does, in the mythology of the ancient peoples…The idea of restoring the youth and spirit of the old and dying by the injection of the blood of the strong had its birth before the recorded memory of man.”
- From Banked Blood, by Dr. Charles R. Drew
When Charles Richard Drew was born—June 3, 1904 in Washington D.C.—the four principal blood types had only recently been discovered. Little did the world know that this tiny baby would become the father of the modern blood bank in the United States.
After all, baby Charlie was merely the son of a carpet layer and a homemaker.
And, as an African American, he had to combat fierce opposition and societal obstacles to achieving his career goals.
But the triumphs of the future rest in the grit and determination of today.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and documents at Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Charlie's "[U]upbringing emphasized academic education and church membership, as well as civic knowledge and personal competence, responsibility, and independence."
This project—a success—became Drew’s dissertation, “Banked Blood.”After investigating the body of research related to blood and its transfusion, assessing previous efforts in banking, and interviewing experts in the field, Drew and Scudder “Obtained funding and authorization to set up an experimental blood bank at Presbyterian Hospital to work out the organization and best collection protocols for such an operation.”
From then on, the world would know him as Dr. Charles Drew.
A few months later, Dr. Drew was summoned back to New York City.
His charge? Direct the Blood for Britain Project.
The United Kingdom was under German attack, and both civilians and military personnel needed ample supplies of blood plasma. Within the year, Dr. Drew made critical assessments, changes and improvements to the processes of collecting blood and plasma—his work laid the groundwork for the modern blood bank, now a necessity of adequate healthcare.
Have you ever wondered: Who invented bloodmobiles?
By 1941 Dr. Drew was the assistant director for a pilot national blood banking program and “among his innovations were mobile blood donation stations, later called ‘bloodmobiles.’ Ironically, as the blood bank effort expanded in preparation for America's entry into the war, the armed forces initially stipulated that the Red Cross exclude African Americans from donating; thus Drew, a leading expert in blood banking, was ineligible to participate in the program he helped establish. The policy was soon modified to accept blood donations from blacks but required that these be segregated. Throughout the war, Drew criticized these policies as unscientific and insulting to African Americans.”
Dr. Charles Drew died in an auto accident in 1950, but his work revolutionized healthcare.
If there is one man who had an infinite impact on public health, it is Dr. Charles Drew. As he once wrote to a medical student of his, “In the individual accomplishments of each man lies the success or failure of the group as a whole. The success of the group as a whole is the basis for any tradition which we may create. In such a tradition lies the sense of discipleship and the inspiration which serves as a guide for those who come after, so that each man's job is not just his job alone but a part of a greater job whose horizons we at present can only dimly imagine…”
Images and documents were accessed via U.S. National Library of Medicine.