History or Myth III—Charles Drew
Charles Drew was a physician who studied at McGill in Montreal. He later returned to the United States and studied and worked at Howard University and at Columbia. He became interested in blood transfusions while at McGill. Later, at Columbia, he wrote a paper about banking blood. Until then, blood for a transfusion could not be stored for more than a couple of days. He devised a technique to separate the plasma from the whole blood. Plasma could be retained much longer. In addition, blood type did not matter for a plasma transfusion. Anybody’s plasma could be used for anybody else. This technique has probably saved more lives on the battlefield than anything else in medicine except penicillin. A plasma transfusion can be used on the spot to restore volume and maintain circulation.
Dr. Drew was in a very bad automobile accident in 1950, and that is where the legend begins. Supposedly the accident happened in Georgia and he was taken to an all-white hospital (he was African-American). He was refused admittance and then taken to a hospital where blacks were accepted, but he died on the trip. The story has been told and retold. It appeared in countless publications, both magazines and books. It has been used in many places as an outrageous example of mistreatment of blacks in the South. This man, whose work had saved so many lives, was denied access to timely treatment. It is really an appalling story, with one little problem.
Charles Drew did have an automobile accident (in North Carolina, not Georgia). He was taken to the closest hospital with an emergency room. It was an all-white facility but he was taken into the emergency room, anyway. There, two doctors (they were brothers) worked on him feverishly to stabilize him, so they could begin to repair his injuries. He was too badly hurt, and he died on the table in the emergency room. The myth about his mistreatment is not propagated much anymore, but for many years it was widely believed.