SAND KEY -- There are a couple of ways to get from Belleair to Sand Key.
You can go by the Belleair Causeway and then head north, or you can go through downtown Clearwater and then south to Sand Key.
Or you can take a Wave Runner right across the Intracoastal Waterway.
That's what Dr. Jeff Spilman does every day to get to work.
He also got to Sand Key, where he has a growing dental practice, by way of Indiana, where he grew up (the son of a dentist), went to college playing football, completed dental college and began his professional life.
Wrapped into that was Heather, originally from Clearwater, who became the key figure in the journey to Florida.
Heather is Mrs. Jeff Spilman. She was Heather Hamilton, who began what became a professional cheerleading career at Clearwater High School.
Her work took her to the big leagues as she worked with the Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bulls. Along the way, she met Jeff.
He had been born in South Bend and after schooling worked in dentistry with his father for six years. When is father retired and northern winters were starting to get to Heather and their two children were taking more time than cheerleading, the decision was made to come to Florida.
Now Clayton, 9, and Emma, 7, are enjoying paradise with Mom and Dad and attending St. Cecilia School.
Oh -- the method of getting to work. . .
As you stand on the boardwalk on the east side of Jeff's Sand Key Dental office in the strip shopping center just south of the Columbia Restaurant you can look across the Intracoastal Waterway to just about where the Spilmans live.
When he began his practice in Sand Key about a year ago, the idea of a straight line between two points became obvious to Jeff, so he bought a Wave Runner to travel back and forth to the office.
"It takes about four or five mintues to cross," he says.
When he does arrive at the office, he has a competent staff, from Liesa Pratt, the receptionist who does lots of paperwork as well, Ginger Ayres, a dental technician, and the woman he calls his "right hand," Terri Estep.
Estep is a Clearwater native. She points across the water to Morton Plant Hospital and says, "that's where I was born."
Her dad, Dr. Ralph Baker, was a dentist in Clearwater and Ginger worked for her father. So the close knit quality of Sand Key Dental has several strands that weave it together.
The description for the ambience of the office is laid back. The background music often is Jimmy Buffet, and folks drop in to say hello and have a cup of coffee. Jeff has picked up the name "Doctor Friendly."
He is scheduled as the cover story for Dental Economics magazine next March. The theme in that story, he says, is "to practice where you want to practice; enjoy going to work every day and how to make a dental office totally functional."
You get the feeling in talking to Jeff, a big handsome fellow who still looks like he could strap on the gear and jump into the tight end position he once played, that life is to be enjoyed.
He brings that to the office, which is sunny and pleasant and doesn't have much of the dread many associate with "waiting to see the dentist."
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