WE WERE THERE TOO! Part 13

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Dr. Charles Richard Drew

Thanks to the work of this black American surgeon, millions of lives, all over the world have been saved. There are four different blood groups: A, B, AB, or O. During surgery if a patient needs a blood transfusion, it is important that each person receives the correct blood type, the one that is the closest matches their own.

In the early 1930’s this fact was not widely understood. Further complications were caused, because large quantities of blood could not be collected and stored.

In his research, Dr. Drew observed that blood went off if it was kept for more than a week. However, plasma (the liquid portion of the blood without the blood cells) would keep for much longer.

In 1939 War was declared in Europe. When the Nazi bombers turned their full force onto Britain, both at home and in the war zones there were many casualties. A project called Blood for Britain was set up in America but the standard of collecting and processing the blood was so varied, by the time the supplies reached England they were contaminated and could not be used.

It was at this point that Dr. John Beattie, head of the Royal Air Forces transfusion service sent an urgent message to Dr. Drew asking him to send 10,000 pints of plasma to him within a month. Although this seemed like an impossible challenge, the doctor completed the task.

To ensure that all American hospitals processed plasma to the same high standard Dr. Drew was appointed Medical Supervisor of the Blood for Britain programme. At the request of the British Government he was invited to Britain to oversee the Blood Banks; saving thousands of lives during this turbulent period. After the war Dr. Drew returned to America to become Professor of Medicine at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington. 

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