Florida’s longest-living heart transplant patient has died

Published October 5 2018
Updated October 5 2018

Services were held this week for Glen Frank Spurlin, who passed away Sept. 26 in Lakeland after having lived more than 33 years with a donor heart he received at Tampa General Hospital.

He was the longest-living heart transplant patient in Florida.

In 1985, he became the third person ever in Florida to receive a donor heart, and the second at Tampa General, said Dr. Raghavendra Vijayanagar, who performed the operation.

Spurlin was 76.

His heart problems began in the late 1970s after doctors amputated his right leg due to bone cancer, Vijayanagar said.

"Chemotherapty drugs help eliminate cancer but they also damage the heart. We had no other choice (but the transplant)," he said.

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Vijayanagar said that Spurlin had "just hours to live" in June 1985 when he got a call late at night that a heart had become available in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A 20-year-old man had died from complications after a motorcycle accident. Spurlin’s family was able to connect with the family who donated the heart while Vijayanagar and a medical team from Tampa General boarded a plane to retrieve it, he said.

At the time, the life expectancy for organ recipients was not long. The first heart transplant in Florida took place in 1969 at the Miami Heart Institute. The patient died 14 days after the procedure.

Worldwide, few patients have gone on to live as long as Spurlin.

The extra 30-plus years allowed him to live a mostly normal life. He attended his sons’ weddings and college graduations. And he was there when his five grandchildren were born.

"He was a fantastic patient and we were very close," Vijayanagar said Friday. "I got to meet his grandchildren at the funeral service. He had a good life, and was able to spend it with family."

According to an obituary at Gentry-Morrison Funeral Homes in Lakeland, he is survived by his wife, Marie, a son, Dale Spurlin; brothers, Mac and Watson Spurlin; and grandchildren, Nathanael, Elizabeth, Sarah, Matthias and Isaac.

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.