SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Many of us spent our childhoods practicing surgery thanks to the board game “Operation.”

A Sarasota group started an operation of its own to lend a hand to the inventor of this beloved game.

John Spinello was inspired as a little boy.

“I crawled under my mom’s TV set with a safety pin and put it in the light socket, and boy that got my attention,” said Spinello. “That was a feeling I never forgot.”

For a college project in 1963, he developed a prototype, and it was shockingly successful.

“I heard the buzz throughout the studio, they were laughing and having such a good time with it,” Spinello said.

He got butterflies in this stomach when he was invited to demonstrate the game to a toy company.

“The toy developer looked at my game, he says ‘what is this (expletive)?’” recalled Spinello.

But the developer changed his tune as soon as he played it.

“It sparked, almost melted the probe. He threw it up in the air and says ‘I love it! I love it!’” Spinello said.

The developer gave Spinello $500 for the game and promised him a job.

But Spinello later got a broken heart. He was never given the job, and ‘Operation’ went on to sell 45 million copies.

“Initially I thought I was kind of cheated,” he said.

A few years ago, Spinello needed an operation of his own, but couldn’t afford it. So a friend, Tim Walsh started a fundraising drive for him that became wildly successful.

Spinello was featured in broadcasts and newspapers around the world. Not only did he get the money for his surgery, he heard from people all over who were inspired by his game.

“He’s given so much joy to so many people,” Walsh said.

Walsh later made a documentary about Spinello called ‘Operation: Operation, The Power of Play.’

Today, Spinello drives Uber in Chicago and still needs help with living expenses.

“The reason I gravitated to John is because he is remarkably unbitter which is just amazing,” Walsh said.

“No, I don’t feel cheated. All the people that I’ve met and all the thanks I’ve received, you can’t put a dollar value on it,” Spinello said.

The Central West Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association invited Spinello to Sarasota.

The group is hosting a fundraiser called “Operation Gratitude.”

Spinello will screen the documentary Friday night and meet with fans. There will also be an event on Saturday.

Proceeds will help Spinello and be donated to the Family Network on Disabilities of Manasota (FND), a local non-profit organization that assists families of children with disabilities and special needs.

Spinello is certainly a bonafide expert in this game, so before we left, we asked his advice for winning.

“You need to have a couple drinks first,” Spinello chuckled.

The documentary will be screened on Friday night and there will be a family day with fun for the whole family on Saturday.

Event Details:

  • Dates:
    • Friday, Nov. 8th, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
    • Saturday, Nov. 9th, 10:00am – 3:00pm
  • Location: The Bazaar at Apricot & Lime, 821 Apricot Avenue, Sarasota, Florida, 34237
  • Price:
    • Limited VIP – $75
    • Pre-paid general admission – $25
    • At-door – $35

To purchase, click here.