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Charles R Drew | Black History Month

Renowned surgeon and pioneer in the preservation of life-saving blood plasma

COVID-19 has affected every aspect of St Oswald’s Hospice; the way we provide care, the way we raise funds and the way we support our staff has all had to change. Whilst this has been testing, and continues to present some real challenges, it has also created opportunities for us to offer care in new ways and to people who might not have accessed our support in the past. One example of this has been the Ambulatory Care service we’ve developed with The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Patients who need regular blood transfusions are now coming to the hospice site to receive these. This means that they receive treatment in more comfortable surroundings and can access all of the other support and care we have on offer. It also frees up much needed space within the hospital so that they can treat more patients. Finally, it helps us to offer our care to more people and brings in much needed income. Our featured person for Black History Month this week, is linked to this work.

Charles Richard Drew was born in June 1903 in Washington DC, USA. Drew attended Dunbar High School which was well known at the time for its equality and opportunities for all, despite the racial climate at the time. Drew was a keen athlete and football player and won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1926 but couldn’t afford to follow his dream of attending medical school so, he worked as a biology teacher and coach for two years. In 1928, Drew started training at McGill University in Montreal, Canada where he quickly became a top student and graduated second in his class in 1933, earning both a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Surgery degree.

Drew then went on to train at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital in Canada. He studied with Dr. John Beattie and together they examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions. In 1938, Drew received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York. It was here that he continued his research into blood related matters with John Scudder and he developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma which made it possible to be stored or "banked" for longer periods of time. The thesis based on this work earned Drew a Doctor of Science in Medicine; he was the first African American to gain this award but he was never accepted into the American Medical Association due to his ethnicity.

During the Second World Ward, Drew was called on to head “Blood for Britain”, organising the collection, processing and shipment of blood plasma to treat casualties in Europe. In 1941, he developed a blood bank for us by the US military, however, he was outraged by the initial ban on collecting African American blood  and then on being told that it could only be used for African American personnel, so he resigned after a few months.

Drew returned to research and teaching, leading Howard University’s department of surgery and gaining the post of Chief Surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital. He also became the first African American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.

Charles Drew died, aged 45, following a car accident in April 1950.

If you would like to find out more information about Charles R Drew, please click here.

Find out more information about our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work at the Hospice, please click here.