Dr. Charles Drew, known as the father of the blood bank, was an accomplished physician and scholar and the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Columbia University.
Born in the U.S. in 1904, Dr. Drew studied as an undergraduate at Amherst College before enrolling in McGill University in Montreal, Canada to study medicine. He returned to the U.S. after his father’s death and was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
It was at Presbyterian Hospital that Dr. Drew developed a method of separating plasma from whole blood, which allowed it to be stored longer. Because of this effort, he was asked to head the “Blood for Britain” effort during World War II and oversaw the shipment of plasma from New York to Britain to help aid war efforts.
Dr. Drew also began work on a blood bank effort with the American Red Cross that would supply blood to U.S. Military. Unfortunately, this effort was marred by controversy when the military refused to use blood donated by African Americans. Dr. Drew resigned from his position and returned to a distinguished career, serving a chief surgeon and a professor. He was only 45 year old when he died in car accident while attending a medical conference in Alabama.
Unfortunately, the outdated views on segregation and blood donation that Dr. Drew faced have had an influence on blood donation that continues to this day. Many African Americans do not donate blood because they believe their blood will be discarded and not used. This is no longer the case. In fact, blood from African American donors and those of African Heritage is often the best match for African Americans who suffer from Sickle Cell disease and other issues. Blood banks recognize that having a diverse blood supply is important and welcome African American blood donors.