Sarasota doctor with special connection to Winter the Dolphin calls her an ‘inspiration’

Pinellas County

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Dr. Dan Strzempka has a special place in his heart for Winter the Dolphin.

Strzempka considers Winter a member of his family and drove from Sarasota to see her on Thursday. He designed Winter’s prosthetic tail and his kids grew up around her.

Dr. Dan Strzempka visits Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Thursday.

“My kids are 21 and 19 now, but my son was 5 and my daughter was 8 when we started with this,” said Dr. Strzempka. “And I have pictures of them playing with her and she’s definitely part of the family.”

When he learned that Winter was ill and wasn’t doing well, his heart dropped. He wanted to see her, just in case.

“It’s like any family member that’s not doing well. Even worse because you don’t know because you’re not a vet,” he said. “The thing that gives me optimism is, if any of my family members were in the hospital with something, is that I know her and what she’s overcome.”

Clearwater Marine Aquarium President Dr. James “Buddy” Powell also called Winter a fighter.

Dr. Strzempka says growing up with a prosthetic, people looked at him a bit differently.

“The one thing about Winter is that everyone knows that she is incredibly strong and resilient and a fighter,” said Powell. “And I think that is one of the things that has inspired so many people.”

Dr. Strzempka believes Winter is also a teacher. Strzempka, who also wears a prosthetic, says he has brought countless patients to see her. Some were withdrawn and opened up after their meeting. He says the dolphin is an inspiration.

“It was bigger and bigger, the message, the inspiration type deal, and then the movie came out and just went worldwide,” he said. “I got calls from Ireland, had patients flying in from Egypt. It was insane, just calling about questions, what’s she wearing. If she can do that, can I do that?”

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