« Home | Responding to a Small-Scale Bioterrorist Anthrax A... » | Dad's Vaccination Hospitalizes Boy, 2 (smallpox) » | Emergent Vaccine Boosts Big Profits » | Sex Assault at Walter Reed Georgia Guardsman was O... » | Court tapes reveal Walter Reed abuse » | Civilians Could be Facing Mandatory Anthrax Shots ... » | Anthrax Shot Returns to Base (Dover AFB) » | Vet Transferred to begin Heart Transplant (Smallpo... » | Pentagon Conducting Research Into Adverse Effects ... » | Anthrax Vaccinations for Soldiers are Not Mandator... »

Waiting for a Heart (Smallpox Vaccine)

http://www.bradento n.com/mld/ bradenton/ news/local/ 17058234. htm
By DONNA WRIGHT dwright@bradenton. com

BRADENTON - After weeks of fighting red tape and insurance problems, Navy veteran Andrew Spehr is now on the transplant list for a new heart.

Spehr, 26, was released from Tampa General Hospital early Monday evening after successfully undergoing evaluation for a new heart.

"We drove home in a rain storm," Spehr said Tuesday. "It's so good to be home. I feel great, a lot better than when I went into the hospital."

Spehr spent 12 days at Tampa General. Before that, he had been hospitalized at Blake Medical Center twice for a total of two weeks. All told, the Navy vet has spent all but one day of the last four weeks in a hospital bed.

Unless he gets a new heart, doctors warn he could die.

Now, Spehr and his family must wait for the call that a new, suitable heart has been found. "It could come at any time," Spehr said. "When we get the call, we go. They told us not to worry about clothes or anything, just get up to Tampa."

On Tuesday, Andrew's parents, Sally and Kurt Spehr, learned how to maintain a portable medicine pump to keep life-giving drugs flowing into Andrew's heart through an IV line until a transplant becomes available.

His mother is relieved Andrew finally made the list. "This is what we have been working for," she said. "You have to qualify to get the heart. Your heart has to be damaged to the point where nothing else can be done."

During his stay at Tampa General, Andrew was in intensive care for five days, his mother said. "It's wonderful to have him home," she said. "We just hope we don't have too long of a wait, but that depends on things outside of our control. But we are ready."

Dr. John K. Lourie, a Bradenton cardiologist, diagnosed Spehr as having myocarditis. The Navy veteran and Lourie believe it is possible his heart condition may have been caused by an adverse reaction to a smallpox vaccine three years ago.

Spehr was set to come home in the spring of 2004 when his destroyer, the USS Spruance, was ordered to the Middle East. Spehr volunteered to extend his duty. His medical record clearly shows that he had an exemption from getting the smallpox vaccine because he was due to be discharged.

But his commanding officers told him he had no choice - get the shot or be court-martialed.

Shortly after he came home Sept. 5, 2004, Spehr began experiencing symptoms that were later determined to be signs of congestive heart failure.

Nonetheless, in an interview Tuesday, Spehr was upbeat about his chances for a new heart. "When I get the call, doctors say surgery will happen that day, if the heart is good," he said.

Meanwhile, Spehr is following doctors' orders and watching his fluid and salt intake. "I am learning to live with this," he said. "It's going to happen. By the end of the year, it's going to happen."

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049.