Irma Villarreal looks back on 40 years

June 24, 2019

When the South Texas Regional Blood Bank moved from San Pedro Avenue to the old YWCA building in downtown San Antonio in 1984, the space for blood collections was limited, to say the least.

“We had four chairs and one TV,” recalled Irma Villarreal, who helped with the move five years after she started with the organization. “The machines were so loud we had to turn up the TV full blast. And then people would get upset because you could hear that TV all over the building.”

Other things have changed since Villarreal started with the organization as an HLA typing expert, including her job description. Currently, she is Director, BioBridge Global Quality & Compliance.

“Where do you start?” she replied when asked about all her job titles.

The center was so small in 1979 that she quickly took on new roles, including laboratory director and head of the apheresis unit. She worked to recruit blood donors. She ran the immunohematology reference laboratory, helped with preparing budgets, did donor services training and even performed tests on tubes. She also worked on the first computer system for laboratory testing.

“It’s been a great ride, and I have loved every minute of it,” she said.

A native of Roma, Texas, Villarreal earned a bachelor’s degree in medical technology at what was then known as the College of the Incarnate Word. She worked a job where she was on call 24/7 for a while before she found out about the South Texas Regional Blood Bank. Working at STRBB gave her regular hours, in addition to the opportunity to advance for the past 40 years.

She has been a witness to the growth of the entire organization, from the days in the cramped facilities on San Pedro to the oddities of the YWCA building to today’s headquarters at Interstate 10.

“This organization has gone through so much,” she said. “In all honesty, I have a great deal of respect for the organization and the leaders of the organization. I know and have confidence that these leaders are going to get the organization to the right spot. And I believe in the mission of the organization.”

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