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Real-Life Lifesaver Still Saving Lives
Prolific NIH Blood Donor Goes to Capitol Hill

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...

When Congress needed a role model for its annual blood drive competition, who did they call? When U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher wanted to team up to tape public service announcements on the importance of blood donation, who did he tag? Howard Drew, the same man who has donated more than 200 units of blood over the last 50 years and whose phone number might as well be on speed dial at the Clinical Center's department of transfusion medicine. Drew is a former reference librarian at the National Library of Medicine and the first inductee in the NIH blood donor Hall of Fame.


"I received blood in World War II," Drew explains, "and I realized the importance of blood donation. Later, while still serving in the Army, I decided to give back. I've been donating regularly since then."

NIH Hall of Fame blood donor Howard Drew (l) teams up with U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher to promote blood donation nationwide.

So committed a donor is he that when DTM got a frantic call early this year for the name of a blood donor who might be willing to stump for the cause at an event on Capitol Hill, the first name DTM provided was Drew's. Apparently a donor scheduled to appear at the second annual "Fight for Life" congressional blood drive challenge had to cancel and on the day before the event, organizers at the American Association of Blood Banks were seeking a last-minute substitute. In rode Drew to save the day.

"I was glad to do it," says Drew, who is accustomed to coming to the rescue. "Whenever they call, I'm happy to donate. The blood bank phones me regularly to donate about every 2 months. Going to Congress was a pleasant experience for me."

In addition to being the first inductee in NIH's blood donor Hall of Fame in 1987 and the first to have made 100 donations at NIH, Drew is a highly decorated Army veteran. Over the course of a 36-year military career, he earned 16 medals and citations, including the Soldier's Medal for Valor and the Legion of Merit.

Shown here in 1967 with empty bottles representing the more than 91 quarts of blood they had donated collectively are Howard Drew (l) and fellow champion NIH donors G. Richard Clague, Dr. Norman A. Hilmar and Forest Gray. At the time, Drew had given seven or more gallons; he now accounts for more than three times the amount shown above, by himself.

In 1945, after serving 2 years in the European Theater of Operations, he was traveling in an Army bus in Massachusetts when the vehicle crashed into a tree and burst into flames. After escaping from the overturned vehicle, Drew ran back to extricate another soldier trapped in the flaming wreckage. He carried his fellow passenger to safety, suffering burns on his hands and face. He was later cited for heroism.

Now age 75, Drew's latest acts of heroism may be much lower key, although equally important. Last month he was called downtown to meet Surgeon General Satcher and a few other volunteer spokespeople to record several 30-second public service announcements on blood donation that will be distributed nationwide to blood centers, hospital blood banks and 600 television stations.

On hand for "Fight for Life," an annual congressional blood drive challenge on Capitol Hill are (from l) Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Drew and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Held each January, which is National Volunteer Blood Donor Month, the contest between Republicans and Democrats gathered 300 donors from among congressional members and their staffs.

"I believe in the importance of community service, and nothing is as fulfilling as saving lives by donating blood," Drew says in one PSA.

"Blood donors like Howard are lifesavers," Satcher responds, inviting viewers to join Howard "to see how good it feels to give the gift of life."

"This was the first time I'd met the Surgeon General," said Drew, who has become something of a local celebrity himself over the last 50 years on the blood-donation circuit.

Congressman Upton and Drew roll up their sleeves.

Drew said recording the PSAs was easy and fun and that he admired the work Satcher is doing, especially in trying to get the message out about the importance of volunteering to donate blood. No doubt the Surgeon General would express similar sentiments about Drew.

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