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Vet Transferred to begin Heart Transplant (Smallpox Vaccine)


Vet transferred to begin transplant tests
dwright@bradenton. com

TAMPA- Andrew Spehr, of Bradenton, is one step closer to a new heart.

The 26-year-old Navy veteran was transferred from Blake Medical Center to Tampa General Hospital on Thursday to begin preliminary tests for a heart transplant.

He underwent a heart catheterization to determine his heart's strength, according to his mother, Sally Spehr. "He's doing OK and things are really moving along," his mother said.

The news of Spehr's transfer thrilled Eddie Mulock, a Bradenton attorney who has successfully had four transplants, including a new heart. Mulock is advising Andrew and his parents. "I'm relieved and real happy for the family," said Mulock, who helped Sally and Kurt Spehr get their son transferred to Tampa General. "He's where he should be, but now we'll see the importance of organ donors. "Being on the list for a new heart is not enough, said Mulock. "Even if a heart becomes available, it has to be the right match," the attorney said. "We have to pray he gets the right heart. That's the stress on the family right now."

Spehr's case illustrates how important it is for people to sign up to be organ donors, Mulock said. "Don't take those organs to heaven," he said. "Heaven knows we need those organs here."

Tests will continue for several days and Tampa General's cardiac team is scheduled to review the results Thursday to determine if the former Navy navigator is eligible for a heart transplant, his mother said.

Andrew Spehr and Bradenton cardiologist Dr. John K. Lourie believe his congestive heart failure may have been caused by an adverse reaction to a smallpox vaccine he had just weeks before his discharge Sept. 5, 2004.

Spehr's medical records show he was supposed to have an exemption from the smallpox vaccine because he was close to discharge. But when his ship was ordered to Middle East in early summer of 2004, Spehr volunteered to extend his duty. His commanding officers told him he had to have the shot or face court-martial.

"I had no choice," Spehr said in an interview this week before going to Tampa General. "I had to get the shot."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented adverse reaction to the smallpox vaccine that have resulted in cardiomyopathy, which is Spehr's diagnosis.

Spehr served on the destroyer USS Spruance in the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf from 2000 to 2004. He also was part of Operation Northern Lights off the coasts of Scotland, England and Norway.

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