Larry Friel, 68, of Avon, is lucky to be alive.
His heart stopped in a Farmington restaurant across the street from UConn Health on a Friday night. It happened suddenly on Nov. 18 while he was dining with a group of 40 people.
“Out of nowhere, I suddenly keeled over,” says Friel. “My heart stopped. I had no pulse. I had no heartbeat. I was dead.”
A bystander in the restaurant who was a dental hygienist that learned CPR several years before put her skills training to use for the first time ever.
“The gal that saved my life I didn’t know at all. She just started doing CPR on me,” reports Friel.
“It’s beyond comprehension,” recalls the lifesaver and dental hygienist Jill Irwin. “I saw Larry fall out of his chair. For some reason I didn’t hesitate. I knew exactly what to do.”
Friel survived that day because Irwin performed CPR to keep his oxygenated blood flowing through his body and to his brain until first responders could make it to the scene. While doing CPR Irwin was assisted by Dentist Dr. Steve Hall, also dining in the restaurant that night. He is a partner at Dental Associates in Farmington, right across the street from the restaurant.
“It was amazing. I kept saying to myself while performing CPR ‘don’t give up.’ You need to keep someone’s heart beating with CPR chest compressions. Saving Larry’s life changed my life too,” says Irwin. “I now realize what a difference I make in the world just by being here.”
The Town of Farmington Police arrived minutes later with Police Officer Nick Marozzi administering an automated-external defibrillator (AED) shock to restart Friel’s heart. Plus, more first responders helped from the Farmington Fire Department and the AMR ambulance team of Paramedic Thomas Mazurski and EMT Jennifer Northrup rushed Friel across Farmington Avenue to the Emergency Department at UConn John Dempsey Hospital.
“When I saw that professional medical help was there, I knew it was going to be okay,” recalls Irwin. “It was an absolute miracle!”
“And Jill even came to UConn Health to visit me in the hospital,” shared Friel heartwarmingly who spent 9 inpatient days at UConn John Dempsey Hospital. He was successfully discharged from Cherry Brook Health Care Center in Canton on December 15 after completing his rehabilitation.
Friel adds: “Her saving my life with CPR is a gift.”
Dr. Christopher Pickett remarked, “I cared for Larry after his cardiac arrest. He was so jovial, and I am happy for his successful outcome. The take home message of his story is the importance of delivering lifesaving CPR,” shared Pickett, Director of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health. “CPR was instrumental in his survival without any neurological damage from his cardiac arrest.”
Friel further explains, “I owe Jill, I love her, and she is now an extension of me. Since she saved my life we have become brother and sister and will always be connected.”
“I’m a huge fan of UConn! I am grateful to everyone working there,” says Friel. “They are awesome! By the Grace of God, my heartfelt gratitude also goes out to the blessed medical team at UConn John Dempsey Hospital, who brought me back to life.”
The care, kindness and compassion at UConn Health was exemplary,” says Friel. “My special thanks going out to Dr. Pickett, Dr. Lima, Dr. Frondella, Dr. Soriano, Tiffany & Shannon in PT, Adidja in RT and a young nurse, named Brittany, from Simsbury where I grew up.”
The reason for Friel’s cardiac arrest is still unknown. An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) was minimally invasively implanted under the skin of his chest in the Electrophysiology Laboratory at UConn Health by Pickett and his EP team. The device will monitor his heart for any dangerous arrythmias that might occur and shock his heart to restart should it ever stop again.
“Thanks to CPR I lived, and my life was saved! I have always believed in miracles and now I’m living it,” said Friel. “I’m still here and I’m grateful!”
His number one mission in life is now spreading the importance of CPR to others.
“Take a CPR class. Even if you never use it,” says Friel. “It is so worth it if you can help save a life. Also, urge your friends and family to learn CPR too. Because without it, you or they might not survive.”
“My survival story is pretty dramatic,” says Friel whose life has always been in the dramatic arts. He got the acting bug in high school while attending Avon Old Farms. He’s been in show business his whole life, appeared in soap operas, episodics, commercials, and now has a production company, celebrating 22 years in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Thanks to his second chance at life after surviving cardiac arrest, Friel is looking forward to “everything” and especially getting back to his family and living life to the fullest.
“I’ve been saved for something,” says Friel. “Angels were looking over me, Jill being one of them and everyone who helped save my life. Many thanks UConn Health.”
“Dr. Pickett and the large gang at UConn Health were absolutely wonderful!” says Friel. “UConn being a teaching hospital is really a positive!”