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Share Your Story: Bernard P. Friel

by Anne S. on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bernard P. Friel Mendota Heights, MN

On February 27, 1969 at the age of 38, I suffered a myocardial infarction, a heart attack, that I was not expected to survive. I spent a week in the CCU unit, and 3 more weeks in the hospital. Angiograms indicated a significant block in the anterior descending coronary artery.

No surgical procedures were available in 1969 except the “Vineberg” which my doctor and the Mayo clinic thought inadvisable. Instead they prescribed a change of lifestyle, and with their help and that of the then Minnesota American Heart Association my wife changed our diet, and I embarked on an exercise program.

I ran my first of 5 marathons in 1976. I had always been an outdoors person, but my improved health motivated me to become involved in a basic running program eventually consisting of 50 miles per week.

In the late 1970s I undertook to do some extensive wilderness backpacking. By 1980 I became involved in whitewater and ocean kayaking and river rafting. Eventually I participated in 4 private trips down the Grand Canyon, one of which I led, and on two of which I rowed one of the rafts.

In my late 50s and early 60s I began serious mountain climbing, summiting Mount Rainier twice in my early 60s (having failed once in my late 50s) and Mount Kilimanjaro at 67.  Also in my 50s, 60s and 70s I served as a crewmember on a 57-foot ketch for periods up to a month sailing in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the North Atlantic.

In my early 70s I led a raft trip from the Brooks Mountains to the Arctic Ocean in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Through the years since the heart attack I have also led over 25 canoe trips in the Quetico wilderness of Ontario, the most recent being in the late spring of 2013.

One other undertaking of note was a 10-day mission to Papua New Guinea in 2007 where our mission group was successful in locating four aircraft lost there in the deep jungles during WWII.
While the change in lifestyle provided me with a variety of experiences I might not otherwise have undertaken, it had positive consequences in my professional life as a lawyer as well. In 1972 I organized the municipal bond department in my law firm, Briggs and Morgan P.A. , from which I have been retired since 2001.

Now in my 84th year I continue to be in excellent health and still lead a vigorous life style. I bike and walk and have a program of other exercises. The years of long distance running provided me with excellent collateral coronary circulation around, what tests show, is still significant arterial narrowing. The running eventually cost me a knee replacement (an easy trade for a heart replacement) which has unfortunately curtailed my running, and cost me some weight gain.

Throughout these 45 years, I have had annual checkups with my cardiologist, often involving a stress exercise test, because I did not wish to undertake any foolish risk, and I have not had a single event that would even suggest any coronary risk or issue.

Several years ago I put together a motivational program utilizing my love for photography and my skills and coronary history entitled “A CHANGE OF HEART, taking charge of your health for a long, healthy, vigorous and more satisfying life”, which I have presented numerous times to a variety of audiences.

My life experience over the last 45 years is due in no small part to a doctor who was ahead of the curve in recognizing the bad effects of cholesterol, and the benefits of exercise, and a diet low  in fat, and the helpful dietary information then available only from the American Heart Association. My doctor, 10 years my senior, often referred to me as his “Poster Child” for lifestyle change and recovery, and when he passed away 2 years ago I was honored to provide a eulogy at his funeral.

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  • Thank you for sharing your story and your advocacy.

    — Nathan T.

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