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Navy Names Ship For Renowned Howard Surgeon and Blood Pioneer
The USNS Charles R. Drew will be christened on March 27.
WASHINGTON -- Dr. Charles Drew, the former chair of the Department of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine who saved an untold number of lives through his pioneering work with blood, is being honored by the U.S. Navy with a ship.
Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter Wednesday announced that a 689-foot, 42,000-ton Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo/ammunition ship, T-AKE 10, will be named the USNS Charles Drew in honor of the physician and medical researcher whose pioneering work led to the discovery that blood could be separated into plasma.
The model for blood and plasma storage developed by Drew in the 1930s and 1940s -- separating the liquid red blood cells from the near solid plasma and freezing the two separately -- has saved millions of lives over the years and is the same process used today by the Red Cross. Drew's system for the storing of blood plasma, the “blood bank,” revolutionized the medical profession.
When America went to war in 1941, Drew was named as director of the blood bank for the National Research Council, collecting blood for the U.S. Army and Navy. He established the American Red Cross blood bank, of which he was the first director. Drew also organized the world's first blood bank drive, nicknamed "Blood for Britain."
In 1942, he returned to Washington, where he became head of the College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and chief surgeon at Freedman's Hospital.
The following year, he became the first African-American surgeon to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.
A year later, he was elevated to Freedmen Hospital’s chief of staff and medical director, a position he held until 1948. While still at the College of Medicine, he was killed in an automobile accident in 1950 on the way to a medical conference in Tuskegee, Ala.
Dr. Bernard Kapiloff, who graduated from the College of Medicine in 1945 and was an assistant fellow in surgery and surgical assistant under Drew, applauded the award.
“He’s worthy of anything and everything this country can give him,” said Kapiloff, 92, a retired plastic surgeon and Baltimore resident who also taught at the College of Medicine for more than 15 years. “It’s amazing that his work on blood plasma was his Ph.D., thesis. He saved many lives, and he established the department of surgery, as far as I’m concerned.”
While still at the College of Medicine, Drew was killed in an automobile accident in 1950 on the way to a medical conference in Tuskegee, Ala.
Dr. LaSalle Leffall , one of the world’s most prominent cancer surgeons, first black president of the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons and a long-time professor at the College of Medicine, was a member of the last class that Drew taught.
“He was an excellent teacher, and he had a reputation among surgical residents and patients as an excellent surgeon,” said Leffall, who has taught over two-thirds of the more than 7,500 College of Medicine graduates.
“He had a saying, ‘Excellence of performance will transcend artificial barriers created by man.’ What he was talking about was discrimination. That is a message that I have carried with me all of my life.”
Winter announced that three other new Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo/ammunition ships are being named in honor of American explorers and pioneers.
The ships will be named after U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858), aviation pioneer Navy Capt. Washington Chambers (1856-1934) and William McLean (1914-1976), a Navy physicist who developed the heat-seeking Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
The four ships are being built by General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. The ship named for Drew will be christened Feb. 27.