Obituary: William H. Portman / Created a centralized blood bank system

Dec. 1, 1948 - April 28, 2014

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The idea was simple in concept but brilliant in its implications: Donated blood should be gathered, tested and stored at a central location from which it could be dispensed efficiently to hospitals throughout Pittsburgh.

When William H. Portman, then CEO of the Central Blood Bank of Pittsburgh, came up with the idea of a centralized blood bank in the mid-1980s, hospitals throughout the city were still drawing, testing, storing and dispensing blood themselves.

That method required each hospital to maintain and staff a round-the-clock laboratory and refrigerated storage area, according to Mr. Portman's wife, Mary Ann Portman.

It also meant that some blood, which expires after 21 days, went to waste because of variations in the demands at individual hospitals -- variations that were evened out after those hospitals all began drawing their supplies from a centralized source, she said.

"Family members would come donate blood and sometimes it wouldn't match or it contained antibodies that conflicted, or they couldn't process it quickly enough for patients to use it," said Dr. Portman, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who now lives in Naples, Fla.

"It was just the way things had always been done, and no one had thought, 'We could centralize this and make this so much more efficient.' "

Mr. Portman, of Fox Chapel, died on April 28 of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 65.

Born in Butler, Pa., on Dec. 1, 1948, Mr. Portman was the only child of John C. and Betty J. Portman. He graduated from Westminster College with a bachelor's degree in science, majoring in economics, in 1971.

After working for a year at General Electric in Erie, Mr. Portman went back to graduate school and earned a master's degree in business administration from Bowling Green University in 1974.

After graduation, he began working as an accountant at the Peat Marwick accounting firm, then joined the independent Central Blood Bank of Pittsburgh as an accountant in 1976.

Her husband liked that the blood bank was service-driven and nonprofit and seemed to provide opportunities to improve both its services and his position within the organization, she said.

He soon became treasurer, and then its CEO in 1984.

"Once he was named CEO, then he had free rein to really grow it and develop it, and he grew it exponentially," she said.

Within a few years, her husband had come up with idea of centralizing the city's blood supply, and persuaded one hospital after another to close their blood draw, testing and storage facilities in favor of relying on the blood bank, she said.

In the mid-1990s, he also decided to buy a large laboratory outside Chicago, where all the testing for the company is now done on a grand scale for clients all over the country. The Central Blood Bank is now part of a company called the Institute for Transfusion Medicine, which has headquarters in Pittsburgh and Chicago and provides services including cord blood banking, diagnostics and research.

Throughout his career, Mr. Portman enjoyed golf and big-game hunting of "pretty much anything with antlers that moved," especially mule deer, elk and antelope in the United States and Canada, his wife said.

He retired from his position in 2007.

Besides his wife, Mr. Porter is survived by their son, Benjamin of Atlanta.

Friends will be received at Weddell-Ajak Funeral Home in Aspinwall 10 to 11 a.m. May 24, when services will be held.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be given to the Alzheimer's Caregivers Support Network, 660 Tamiami Trail N., Suite 21, Naples, FL 34102.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: or 412-263-1719.

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