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Remembering the “Father of Blood Banking”
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By Carol Spence with Marilynn Vanderstaay

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. Revelation 12:11 KJV

And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. Colossians 1:20 KJV

From Genesis to Revelation the sacrificial shedding of the blood of a lamb has been the key to God’s plan for mankind’s salvation… wholeness spirit soul and body… first through the sacrifices of unblemished lambs in the Old Testament and ultimately through the blameless blood of the Lamb Jesus, the final and ultimate sacrificial lamb.

When God created man He used the substance of blood, the nutrient rich fluid that runs throughout our bodies, as the life force to keep our bodies strong and alive.

As early as 1658 scientists realized the importance of blood and worked on developing a method to transfer blood from one living being to another to save lives. In 1665 the first recorded successful blood transfusion took place in England when Physician Richard Lower kept a dog alive by transfusing blood from other dogs.

But the challenge of withdrawing and saving blood for future use was still an issue that would not be dealt with until the twentieth century. In the early 1920’s Dr. Charles Drew, an African American physician and Believer, committed his life work to the study of blood plasma preservation.

Within decades, Drew's research into the storage, processing, and shipment of blood plasma led to the development of the lifesaving banking of blood. The specifics of how he became interested in the study of blood plasma, going from an average student at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., America’s first high school for black students, to an outstanding medical student at McGill University in Montreal made his earning the designation as The Father of Blood Banking an inspiring story.

Charles Drew was born June 3, 1904, to Richard and Nora Drew in Washington D.C. The eldest of five children, the family lived in a middle class integrated community and attended the First Baptist Church. His family upbringing emphasized academic education and church membership as well as civic knowledge, personal competence, responsibility, and independence.

His prowess in sports served him well. In 1922 he entered Amherst College in Massachusetts on an athletic scholarship. Guided by his biology professor, Otto Glaser, Drew developed an interest in science which in part led him to consider medicine in further studies.

Drew arrived at McGill University, in 1928. He knew he had to make good of the opportunity for, from the number of applications he had sent out, this was the only forthright acceptance he received. In 1933 he graduated second in his class of 137 during which time he also won many awards and prizes and again excelled in sports especially track and field.

During his two years of internship, he was supervised by anatomist Dr. John Beattie who fostered Drew’s interest in surgery but also introduced him to the idea of fluid transfusions. A fire at the Montreal General Hospital during his residency demonstrated the need for a reliable blood or blood substitute supply. He returned home to Washington determined to further his studies in surgery and to dedicate his career to teaching future African American surgeons.

Drew now realized that collaboration with peers regardless of racial identity was key to the understanding and progress of science. Opportunities soon arose that activated that fundamental concept, propelling him to a role of leadership in the development of the banking of blood.

His thesis written for his doctorate studies at Columbia University entitled “Banked blood: a study in blood preservation,” was an enormous contribution to the administering of transfusion and emerging treatment that resulted in the saving of thousands of lives in World War 11 and continues to do so today.

His hands on work in the laboratory included a prototype for a model blood bank. Consequently, Drew became known as "The Father of the Blood Bank".

On completion of these projects Drew left New York and returned home to Washington to his wife Minnie Lenore Robbins, a professor of Home Economics at Spellman College in Atlanta he had married in September 1940 and his young daughter BeBe. named after Blood Bank.

Drew resumed his teaching position at Howard and was soon appointed Chair in the Department of Surgery at Freedmen's Hospital where he pursued his long-range plan to establish a first-rate surgical program that continues today.

Drew was always actively involved in his commitment to Black people. He spoke out against the policy of the Red Cross to segregate the blood of black donors. His experiments showed no scientific evidence to support this. He thought that the Red Cross had caved into pressure from the military.

Charles Drew died tragically in North Carolina on April 1,1950, while driving with three other doctors to a conference Tuskegee, Alabama.

Drew, in reflecting on his life felt that one of his greatest achievements was that he taught more than half of the African American surgeons receiving certification papers from the American Board of Surgery between 1941 and 1950.

“Throughout his life, Dr. Drew represented critical values of academic excellence, perseverance in the face of adversity, leadership, and a commitment to justice,” said Christopher Manfredi, McGill’s Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Professor. “We’d like to make sure that we provide future Black students at McGill the environment to thrive academically and personally that Dr. Drew was able to experience.” This initiative is part of the university’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism.

Drew is well remembered by educational institutions in the United States where many schools have been named after him. In 2015 the U. S. National Inventor’s inducted Drew into its Hall of Fame for his work in the area of blood storage, and his patent pertaining to the creation of the surgical needle.

In closing, I use this inscription on a plaque at the site of the accident: "There must always be the continuing struggle to make the increasing knowledge of the world bear some fruit in increased understanding and in the production of human happiness." Charles Drew.

Ironically, I am completing this article during a time when blood donation issues are again predominantly in the news. This week Canadian Blood Services said that starting no later than September. 30 it will end its ban on gay men donating blood. All potential donors will be asked if they have had new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. The ban was instituted in 1992 in light of the HIV AIDS crisis.

Give blood and keep the world beating

Blood banking is the process that takes place in the lab to make sure that donated blood, or blood products, are safe before they are used in blood transfusions and other medical procedures. Blood banking includes typing the blood for transfusion and testing for infectious diseases.

Canada’s blood and blood products supply is recognized as one of the safest in the world, and the health and safety of the donors who contribute to that vital resource are equally important to us.

On Tuesday, June 14 the world will celebrate World Blood Donor Day. In Canada that week from June 13 to June 17 is National Blood Donor Week.

Make an appointment to donate your blood at 441 Richmond Street, 1 888 2 DONATE 1-888-236-6283.