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Charles Drew

Charles Drew - blackinventor.com

Charles Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C., the son of Richard and Nora Drew and eldest of five children. Charles was one of those rare individuals who seemed to excel at everything he did and on every level and would go on to become of pioneer in the field of medicine.

Charles’ early interests were in education, particularly in medicine, but he was also an outstanding athlete. As a youngster he was an award winning swimmer and starred Dunbar High School in football, baseball, basketball and track and field, winning the James E. Walker Memorial medal as his school’s best all around athlete. After graduation from Dunbar in 1922, he went on to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts where he captained the track team and starred as a halfback on the school’s football team, winning the Thomas W. Ashley Memorial trophy in his junior year as the team most valuable player and being named to the All-American team. Drew had a rich assortment of graduation announcements and convocations since his education was extensive through his life. Upon graduation from Amherst in 1926 he was awarded the Howard Hill Mossman trophy as the man who contributed the most to Amherst athletics during his four years in school.

After graduation from Amherst, Drew took on a position as a biology teacher at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and also served as the school’s Athletic Director. During his two years at Morgan State, he helped to turn the school’s basketball and football programs into collegiate champions.

In 1928, Charles decided to pursue his interest in medicine and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He was received as a member of the Medical Honorary Society and graduated in 1933 with Master of Surgery and Doctor of Medicine degrees, finishing second in his class of 127 students. He stayed in Montreal for a while as an intern at Montreal General Hospital and at the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1935, he returned to the United States and began working as an instructor of pathology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He was also a resident at Freedmen’s Hospital (the teaching hospital for Howard University) and was awarded the Rockefeller Foundation Research Fellowship.

He spent two years at Columbia University in New York attending classes and working as a resident at the Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital. During this time he became involved in research on blood and blood transfusions. Years back, while a student at McGill, he had saved a man by giving him a blood transfusion and had studied under Dr. John Beattie, an instructor of anatomy who was intensely interested in blood transfusions.

Charles Drew

Now at Columbia, he wrote a dissertation on “Banked Blood” in which he described a technique he developed for the long-term preservation of blood plasma. Prior to his discovery, blood could not be stored for more than two days because of the rapid breakdown of red blood cells. Drew had discovered that by separating the plasma (the liquid part of blood) from the whole blood (in which the red blood cells exist) and then refrigerating them separately, they could be combined up to a week later for a blood transfusion. He also discovered that while everyone has a certain type of blood (A, B, AB, or O) and thus are prevented from receiving a full blood transfusion from someone with different blood, everyone has the same type of plasma. Thus, in certain cases where a whole blood transfusion is not necessary, it was sufficient to give a plasma transfusion which could be administered to anyone, regardless of their blood type. He convinced Columbia University to establish a blood bank and soon was asked to go to England to help set up that country’s first blood bank. Drew became the first Black to receive a Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia and was now gaining a reputation worldwide.

Charles DrewOn September 29, 1939, Charles married Lenore Robbins, with whom he would have four children. At the same time, however, World War II was breaking out in Europe. Drew was named the Supervisor of the Blood Transfusion Association for New York City and oversaw its efforts towards providing plasma to the British Blood Bank. He was later named a project director for the American Red Cross but soon resigned his post after the United States War Department issued a directive that blood taken from White donors should be segregated from that of Black donors.

In 1942, Drew returned to Howard University to head its Department of Surgery, as well as the Chief of Surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital. Later he was named Chief of Staff and Medical Director for the Hospital. In 1948 he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for his work on blood plasma. He was also presented with the E. S. Jones Award for Research in Medical Science and became the first Black to be appointed an examiner by the American Board of Surgery. In 1945 he was presented honorary degrees of Doctor of Science from Virginia State College as well as Amherst College where he attended as an undergraduate student. In 1946 he was elected Fellow of the International College of Surgeons and in 1949 appointed Surgical Consultant for the United States Army’s European Theater of Operations.

Charles Drew - blackinventor.comCharles Drew died on April 1, 1950 when the automobile he was driving went out of control and turned over. Drew suffered extensive massive injuries but contrary to popular legend was not denied a blood transfusion by an all-White hospital – he indeed received a transfusion but was beyond the help of the experienced physicians attending to him. His family later wrote letters to those physicians thanking them for the care they provided. Over the years, Drew has been considered one of the most honored and respected figures in the medical field and his development of the blood plasma bank has given a second chance of live to millions.

 


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Daniel Hale Williams - blackinventor.com

Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams - blackinventor.comDaniel Hale Williams was born on January 18, 1856 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. He was the fifth of seven children born to Daniel and Sarah Williams. Daniel’s father was a barber and moved the family to Annapolis, Maryland but died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis. Daniel’s mother realized she could not manage the entire family and sent some of the children to live with relatives. Daniel was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Baltimore but ran away to join his mother who had moved to Rockford, Illinois. He later moved to Edgerton, Wisconsin where he joined his sister and opened his own barber shop. After moving to nearby Janesville, Daniel became fascinated with a local physician and decided to follow his path. He began working as an apprentice to the physician (Dr. Henry Palmer) for two years and in 1880 entered what is now known as Northwestern University Medical School. After graduation from Northwestern in 1883, he opened his own medical office in Chicago, Illinois.

 

Because of primitive social and medical circumstances existing in that era, much of Williams early medical practice called for him to treat patients in their homes, including conducting occasional surgeries on kitchen tables. In doing so, Williams utilized many of the emerging antiseptic, sterilization procedures of the day and thereby gained a reputation for professionalism. He was soon appointed as a surgeon on the staff of the South Side Dispensary and then a clinical instructor in anatomy at Northwestern. In 1889 he was appointed to the Illinois State Board of Health and one year later set for to create an interracial hospital.

On January 23, 1891 Daniel Hale Williams established the Provident Hospital and Training School Association, a three story building which held 12 beds and served members of the community as a whole.

The school also served to train Black nurses and utilized doctors of all races. Within its first year, 189 patients were treated at Provident Hospital and of those 141 saw a complete recovery, 23 had recovered significantly, three had seen change in their condition and 22 had died. For a brand new hospital, at that time, to see an 87% success rate was phenomenal considering the financial and health conditions of the patient, and primitive conditions of most hospitals. Much can be attributed to Williams insistence on the highest standards concerning procedures and sanitary conditions.

 

Daniel Hale Williams - blackinventor.comTwo and a half years later, on July 9, 1893, a young Black man named James Cornish was injured in a bar fight, stabbed in the chest with a knife. By the time he was transported to Provident Hospital he was seeking closer and closer to death, having lost a great deal of blood and having gone into shock. Williams was faced with the choice of opening the man’s chest and possibly operating internally when that was almost unheard of in that day in age. Internal operations were unheard of because any entrance into the chest or abdomen of a patient would almost surely bring with it resulting infection and therefore death. Williams made the decision to operate and opened the man’s chest. He saw the damage to the man’s pericardium (sac surrounding the heart) and sutured it, then applied antiseptic procedures before closing his chest. Fifty one days later, James Cornish walked out of Provident Hospital completely recovered and would go on to live for another fifty years. Unfortunately, Williams was so busy with other matters, he did not bother to document the event and others made claims to have first achieved the feat of performing open heart surgery. Fortunately, local newspapers of the day did spread the news and Williams received the acclaim he deserved. It should be noted however that while he is known as the first person to perform an open heart surgery, it is actually more noteworthy that he was the first surgeon to open the chest cavity successfully without the patient dying of infection. His procedures would therefore be used as standards for future internal surgeries.


In February 1894, Daniel Hale Williams was appointed as Chief Surgeon at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. and reorganized the hospital, creating seven medical and surgical departments, setting up pathological and bacteriological units, establishing a biracial staff of highly qualified doctors and nurses and established an internship program. Recognition of his efforts and their success came when doctors from all over the country traveled to Washington to view the hospital and to sit in on surgery performed there. Almost immediately there was an astounding increase in efficiency as well as a decrease in patient deaths.

 

During this time, Williams married Alice Johnson and the couple soon moved to Chicago after Daniel resigned from the Freedmen’s hospital. He resumed his position as Chief Surgeon at Provident Hospital (which could now accommodate 65 patients) as well as for nearby Mercy Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital, an exclusive hospital for wealthy White patients. He was also asked to travel across the country to attend to important patients or to oversee certain procedures.

Daniel Hale Williams - blackinventor.com

When the American Medical Association refused to accept Black members, Williams helped to set up and served as Vice-President of the National Medical Association. In 1912, Williams was appointed associate attending surgeon at St. Luke’s and worked there until his retirement from the practice of medicine.

Upon his retirement, Daniel Hale Williams had bestowed upon him numerous honors and awards. He received honorary degrees from Howard and Wilberforce Universities, was named a charter member of the American College of Surgeons and was a member of the Chicago Surgical Society. Williams died on August 4, 1931, having set standards and examples for surgeons, both Black and White, for years to come.


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