Born 1904, Washington, D.C. Drew excelled early in his career by earning a “Doctor of Medical Science” degree from Columbia University in 1940; Drew was the first African-American to do so. While at Columbia, Drew made the breakthrough discovery that by separating plasma from whole blood and refrigerating them separately, one could recombine them for a blood transfusion up to a week later. Before this revelation, blood could only be stored up to two days. Drew also discovered that when full blood transfusions weren’t necessary, the same plasma could be transfused to anyone regardless of blood type.
In late 1940, before the U.S. entered WWII, Drew was asked to organize and supervise a U.S. massive blood drive for British troops and civilians called “Blood for Britain”. In order to meet the demand of blood through bombed Britain, Drew implemented the use of “bloodmobiles”, refrigerated trucks. Out of the success of this project, Drew was named the director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank in 1941. The post didn’t last long, as he was asked to resign after protesting the U.S. military’s directive that the race of donors be documented as well as black donors be refused. He openly denounced the government directive as unscientific and unfounded with any evidence that blood type differed among race. His protests were confirmed accurate with other scientists later on and black donors were allowed once again, though still segregated.
His achievements include becoming the first black surgeon to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery in 1943, being presented with the E. S. Jones Award for Research in Medical Science, received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1944, being elected Fellow of the International College of Surgeons in 1946, and was appointed Surgical Consultant for the United States Army’s European Theater of Operations in 1949.