One of the great names of medicine is that of Dr. Charles E. Drew, a black American physician born in Washington, D.C., in 1904. He overcame walls of racial prejudice to become a doctor, and while studying at Columbia University became involved with prominent researchers working on the problem of blood storage.
Up until then, the challenge was to keep blood refrigerated until it was needed. He focused his efforts on separating and storing blood components, particularly blood plasma, in order to extend its shelf life.
During the Battle of Britain, Dr. Drew created protocols and procedures for the collection, testing and shipping of blood to England where it was desperately needed. Almost 15,000 people donated more than 5,600 gallons of blood. This experience saved countless thousands of lives during World War II.
The U.S. military went to great pains to segregate the blood of whites from blacks in those days, for no sane reason. And though Dr. Drew was the driving force behind the plasma project, he was denied the leadership role in it because of his race.
Dr. Drew was tragically killed in an auto accident in North Carolina in 1950. There were rumors he was denied medical treatment because of his race, but another black doctor traveling with him reported they received the best care available.
I’m glad he did. The reality of discrimination against that great man is embarrassing enough.
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