Winning Essay by SeAira M. From Iowa Attends South Alabama

Revolutionary is a word that comes to mind when thinking of this particular man. His contributions to medicine inspire my own journey into the medical field. He is an inspiration to me and an innumerable amount of people, and one day I hope to have an impact on this world like that of Dr. Charles Drew.

Dr. Drew was born on June 3rd, 1904 in Washington, D.C. His outstanding knowledge and athleticism secured a scholarship to Amherst College, where he was a two-sport athlete, excelling in football and track. It was during this time that his younger sister, Elsie, died from tuberculosis, which he said established his desire to attend medical school. Unfortunately, he was unable to afford the cost of admittance until 1929 when he attended McGill University. His intelligence propelled him to be one of the top students in his class. Here, his passion for blood storage developed. He discovered that the plasma found in our blood concentration could be stored, preserved, and re-inoculated into people in time of emergency. He was asked to direct a program where he tested his theory and successfully gave nearly 2000 blood transfusions. His work did not go unnoticed and in 1941, he was hired onto a team for the American Red Cross as the director of the what would be the world’s first blood bank. With World War II raging, Dr. Drew recruited over 100,000 donors to collect upwards of 15,000 pints of blood to be shipped to the U.S. military to treat wounded soldiers. As an advocate of the anti-segregation efforts in this pre-civil rights era, he was revolted upon hearing the military wanted to segregate the blood received from African Americans and only treat white soldiers with blood from white donors. However, the U.S. military and Red Cross would not budge, and because of his race, he resigned from his very own project after learning they refused to believe there was no medical evidence suggesting a racial difference in the blood. He openly critiqued the now stolen project as being “unscientific and insulting to African Americans.”

Begrudgingly, he returned to Washington, D.C. and worked at Howard University as a surgeon and trained the future generation of African American physicians. He cited this as his “greatest and most lasting contribution to medicine.” He worked tirelessly and was presented a multitude of different awards and accolades for his revolutionary work. In 1950, while driving himself and three other doctors to a conference at Tuskegee University, he fell asleep behind the wheel and veered off the road. The impact crushed his chest and pinned him in the car. He was rushed to a hospital in Burlington, North Carolina for treatment. Minorities believed that surgeons at the hospital refused to treat Dr. Drew because of racism but witnesses confirmed the rumor to be false. Ironically, he needed his own blood transfusion to live, but because of the injuries sustained to his heart, a transfusion would have only killed him sooner.


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