You gotta have heart, the old saying goes.
No one knew that better than Glen Frank Spurlin of Lakeland.
Last month, according to The Ledger, Spurlin died after a nine-week stay in the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital. He was 76.
That's remarkable because a heart transplant in June 1985 bought Spurlin another 33 years of life.
Spurlin underwent the surgery after sustaining significant heart damage because of a reaction to chemotherapy treatment he had received while battling bone cancer, which led to a leg amputation in 1977. His widow, Marie, shared that he may have had just a few days left when Tampa General's doctors opened his chest that summer three decades ago. Instead, thanks to the generous gift of organ donation by a 20-year-old South Carolinian who tragically died in a car crash, Spurlin got 12,150 more days.
Tampa General was the first Florida hospital to perform successful heart transplants. Spurlin was the hospital's second transplant patient. He received his heart just 15 days after the first one, an area businessman named Thomas Thrasher. Thrasher, according to the hospital, died in May 1996. But the year after his surgery, he founded and funded an organization dedicated to promoting the need for organ transplants, the National Organization for Transplant Enlightenment, or NOTE. NOTE continues to operate today and, its website says, has helped support more than 5,000 patients in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico with "social, emotional and financial support." Thrasher, the group says, wanted "to spread the word about the need for organ donation, to eliminate misinformation about organ placement and to show that there is quality of life after organ transplants."
Spurlin proved that. Despite losing his leg, not being able to work and having to adhere to a disciplined schedule for drug therapy to prevent his body from rejecting his new heart, Spurlin "did everything, anything he wanted to do after he had the transplant," Marie Spurlin told The Ledger. "He was able to stay busy all the time.... He was always doing things to help neighbors and friends."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that 2017 was a record year for both the number of donors who provided organs and the number of transplants performed. Still, more of us should consider helping others know the kind of joy Spurlin did over his last three decades.
The United Network for Organ Sharing reports that as of Friday almost 114,500 people in America await a transplant. A kidney is the most common need, with 95,189 candidates on the waiting list, followed by liver (13,718) and then heart (3,883). The list contains 5,165 Floridians.
During 2018 only 11,622 donors have been located. Florida has recorded just 653 donors so far this year.
The effect is that 20 people die each day waiting, HHS points out. And while 95 percent of Americans support organ donation, only 54 percent actually register as potential donors.
Closing that gap would not completely solve the problem, but it would help. Groups like NOTE and UNOS facilitate that because they exist to champion this cause. But perhaps another good way to promote awareness of the need and the outcome is by sharing the story of someone like Glen Frank Spurlin, who beat the odds.
The surgical skill, drug therapy and rehabilitation techniques necessary to making transplant surgery successful has improved beyond belief since South African Louis Washkansky became the first heart recipient in 1967. He survived 18 days. Today 75 percent of heart recipients live at least another five years.
But an inadequate supply remains the fundamental issue to helping more people. If you are an organ donor, thank you. If you're not, consider it. You truly can give the gift of life.