Barbara Anderson, 68, chatted it up with Frank Spurlin, 70. Hers was a kidney, in 1974; his was a heart, in '85.
Tampa General Hospital today brought together transplant recipients old and new, family members, physicians and nurses to mingle, reminisce and celebrate the success of the transplant program, which topped 500 surgeries last year.
Not forgotten by those in attendance were those who weren't – the thousands of donors through the years whose gifts made the day possible.
Spurlin said doctors told him he had three hours to live when he was wheeled into surgery with congestive heart failure to receive the second heart transplant ever done at TGH, 27 years ago.
His donor, 20 years old, had just died in a motorcycle accident. Spurlin later learned the boy's mother fought with family members to honor her son's wish to be a donor.
"They gave me a gift, all these years of my life since," said the Lakeland man. "What price can you put on that?"
His wife, Marie, whom he credits with giving him the 24-hour care he needed, said she was terrified when her husband underwent the surgery in 1985.
"I knew he was dying and this was the only chance for me to have any more time with him," she said. "We've been blessed with 27 years."
Anderson, of Zephyrhills, became the first-ever transplant patient at TGH when her kidneys failed in 1974.
She still keeps in touch with the night nurse who provided her care during her time in the hospital. They weathered the fearful nights when it first appeared that her new kidney, donated by her brother, was going to fail.
"Then, I went to the bathroom, and I was crying with happiness, and then there were tears in everyone's eyes! My new kidney was working," she recalled.
Sjonne Mabbott, an advanced registered nurse practitioner who now is in charge of regulating compliance for the hospital, was the heart transplant coordinator when Spurlin received his heart.
"We already had a strong kidney transplant program in place, which helped," she said. "We practiced going through the protocol for a full year before doing the first heart transplant."
Seeing so many patients alive and well after all these years was a moving experience, she said.
"It is, in a word, a miracle," Mabbott said. "All of them were end-stage patients."
In 2011, TGH saw an 80 percent transplant increase, making it the fourth-busiest transplant hospital in the country. The year before, it was No. 10.
Angie Korsun, transplant administrator, said it was due to an increase in patient referrals, additional staff and organ availability. The hospital draws patients from throughout the state and beyond.
Darren Sussman, 41, visited again today with the mother of the donor of his kidney and pancreas. Deborah Paleveda's son Casey, 22, died of a drug overdose 17 months ago.
Sussman's mother and his partner realized, as Sussman recovered from surgery, that his donor's obituary was in the paper that day. They left their number with the funeral home director, and Paleveda called.
Sussman, of Orlando, later made a documentary about those days, called "The Casey Connection," which can be viewed on YouTube.
"Casey and I were a perfect match," he said.
"It was meant to be," Paleveda said.