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Love match: Soap star from Clearwater, doctor from Tampa

Sometimes, when we least expect it, we plow our way through the universe and bump into The Right One.

That's what happened to this newly engaged couple.

He's a cancer surgeon in Tampa.

She's a soap opera beauty working in New York City — and a Clearwater native.

They met when her aunt was ill.

As we celebrate Valentine's Day, they have a sweet little love story to share.

• • •

She has dated people in the music and sports industries, but it was a urologic oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa who stole the heart of Daytime Emmy nominee Crystal Hunt.

"He's the one in the universe that's right for me," said Hunt, 24. "You know when you've met the right person because they compensate for everything you lack and make everything you do have, better."

Last weekend, the couple attended an engagement party held for them by Hunt's sister and brother-in-law, Dana and Chris Gamble of Odessa.

Arriving in her uncle's helicopter, which landed on the street in front of the Gamble house at sunset, Hunt and her fiance, Dr. Philippe Spiess, smiled, kissed and posed for the cameras.

She donned stiletto heels and a sleek, one-shouldered midnight blue satin dress. He wore a dark collared shirt and suit — and a huge smile.

It was a magical movie star moment for the girl who once walked the halls of Palm Harbor University High School.

• • •

These days, she spends weekdays in a New York City studio, where she recently snagged the role of bad girl Stacy Morasco in the ABC soap opera One Life to Live.

But weekends are for Spiess.

The couple takes turns commuting between the Tampa Bay area and New York City.

"We never go more than four days without seeing each other," said Hunt, the daughter of Clark and Nada Hunt of Clearwater.

Oddly, it was a family crisis that brought the couple together.

In October 2007, Crystal Hunt's aunt, Diane Flanagan, was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

"We were scared to death; we didn't want her to die," Hunt said. The family looked for the best doctor they could find.

Spiess came highly recommended; he removed the cancerous tumor in December 2007, Hunt said.

The fact that he was young and handsome didn't escape the soap opera celeb.

After the surgery, she visited her aunt daily, taking care of her at bedside — sure to be there when Spiess made his rounds.

They chatted, bantered and connected.

Oh, and one more thing.

"I made sure I always looked great," Hunt said.

It worked.

"As a doctor, I tried to keep my distance, but at the same time, knew I was falling head over heels in love with her," said Spiess, 36.

After Flanagan was discharged, Spiess asked Hunt out on their first date.

They went to the Melting Pot in Oldsmar and apparently had such a great connection, the waiter asked if they were celebrating an anniversary.

"We couldn't take our eyes off each other," Spiess said.

On Christmas Eve, almost a year after they had began dating, he filled a bathtub with bubbles, water lilies and roses, and spelled out "Will you marry me?" with bath soap on the wall.

Hanging from the shower head was a red ribbon with a five-carat fancy yellow diamond ring tied to it — it was one Hunt had been admiring for a while.

He took down the ring, got down on a knee and proposed.

The couple plans a September wedding.

• • •

Hunt is probably best known for her 3 1/2-year run as Lizzie Spaulding on Guiding Light, for which she received an Emmy nod in 2005.

She has appeared in three films and owns My Pet's Dream Boutique in Clearwater.

Spiess hails from Canada and completed his fellowship in urologic oncology from the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. He said he likes the fact that they have two very different careers.

"We still have a lot in common," he said. "We are both family oriented. She's a very genuine person with a great upbringing and incredible values. And she's very good at what she does."

So is he.

And Flanagan, Hunt's aunt, appears to be cancer free.

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at

Love match: Soap star from Clearwater, doctor from Tampa 02/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 6:52pm]
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