Dr. William R. Bell, an internationally known Johns Hopkins hematologist who conducted research into bleeding and clotting disorders, died Oct. 4 of complications from a blood clot at his Roland Park home. He was 78.
"Bill was one of the premier hematologists of his era, hands down. He had an international reputation and was a master clinician," said Dr. Jerry L. Spivak, a Johns Hopkins Hospital hematologist who was chief of its hematology department from 1980 to 1992. "If you were ever sick, you'd want Bill Bell for your doctor. He was tireless."
He added: "Bill may have had a gruff exterior, but he was full of kindness and empathy. In the world of coagulation, there was no posturing from him. He absolutely had no ego."
William Robert Bell, the son of a medical instrument maker, was born and raised in Greece, N.Y. His mother died in childbirth.
Dr. Bell's interest in medicine began when he was a teenager at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Greece, N.Y.
"He worked at the University of Rochester Hospital, where he assisted in autopsies," said his wife of 47 years, the former Dr. Barbara Bostock, who is a semiretired pediatric cardiologist.
After graduating from high school in 1953, he followed a long family tradition by attending the University of Notre Dame, where he was a 1957 cum laude graduate and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
During his second year of medical school at Georgetown University, Dr. Bell was awarded a scholarship for chemical research, which he conducted at the National Institutes of Health.
He then earned a master's degree in 1961 from George Washington University and returned to medical school in clinical rotations at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Bell earned his medical degree in 1963 from Georgetown and spent the next year completing an internship at Hopkins Hospital. He then went into Navy, working at the NIH in Bethesda, where he attained the rank of commander.
He interrupted his postgraduate training at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and Hopkins Hospital when he received a Fulbright scholarship. The scholarship took Dr. Bell to the Hammersmith Postgraduate Hospital in London from 1967 to 1968.
"While there, he explored the fibrinolytic properties of Arvin, a purified snake venom with dramatic clinical results," said his wife. "A patient with gangrene of both feet had dramatic restoration of blood flow."
From 1968 to 1969, Dr. Bell was an associate in medicine at Harvard Medical School, then moved to Hopkins Hospital as a chief resident. He was an assistant professor of medicine at Hopkins from 1970 to 1974, as well as an assistant physician.
Dr. Bell became a physician at Hopkins in 1974, and concurrently was a longtime professor in the departments of medicine and radiology nuclear medicine.
"He could lay claim for launching the career of many of today's brilliant hematologists," said Dr. Spivak.
"Normally we stay in our field of medicine, but Bill would see anyone who was sick and came to him. He'd give and give and give. He'd be here at all hours of the day and night. He was a hardworking physician and over-caring for his patients is what he lived for," said Dr. Spivak.
"He was an open, generous and caring man. Even though he retired in 2002, patients and house staff still ask after him," said Dr. Spivak.
Dr. Bell's patients ran the gamut and included former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, King Fahad from Riyadh, Hollywood luminaries such as Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine and Dustin Hoffman, and pianist Van Cliburn.
"When 'Dick Tracy' opened, Warren Beatty donated $50,000 from the opening night to Bill's research," said Dr. Bell.
During his career, Dr. Bell published more than 380 articles on hematology and thrombocytic therapy in medical journals, and contributed chapters to numerous medical textbooks.
Dr. Bell also conducted a research career and was the primary investigator in a national pulmonary embolism research study.
He played an instrumental role in the improvement in the treatment of thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura — better known as TTP — a rare blood disorder that causes microscopic clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body.
"As we say in medicine, disease occurs after 5 p.m. and on weekends, so when Bill was conducting this research on TTP, he put a cot in his office on which he would sleep so he could capture the patients," said Dr. Spivak.
"He was an expert on bleeding and clotting. He was a real scholar and a prolific writer on this subject. He knew it all," he said.
Dr. Bell also was something of an eccentric who was seldom without 20 pens in his pocket, said his wife.
"Bill was very gregarious but also very eccentric. He loved going to Memorial Stadium to see Notre Dame play football," recalled Dr. Spivak with a laugh. "I looked down, and there was Bill sitting on the Notre Dame bench with a towel over his head."
Dr. Bell enjoyed playing golf, reading and assembling slide shows from his world travels.
"Bill was also a master chef and no one knew it until he had the whole division to his house for dinner one night," said Dr. Spivak.
Dr. Bell was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Bell is survived by two sons, Dr. William R. Bell III of Baltimore and George H. Bell of Gurnee, Ill.; and a daughter, Elizabeth Bell Gerber of Baltimore.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun