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Sunday, May 26, 2024


‘A Very Dramatic Change to My Life’

‘A Very Dramatic Change to My Life’

By Karen Knight

Ted Friel, of Villas, is happy to celebrate life with his grandaughter, Evalyn, after receiving a double-lung transplant last summer.
Ted Friel, of Villas, is happy to celebrate life with his grandaughter, Evalyn, after receiving a double-lung transplant last summer.

Double lung transplant gives Villas man a second chance

VILLAS – When Ted Friel was first diagnosed in 2005 with COPD, a group of lung diseases that block airflow and require daily supplemental oxygen, he said he “thought nothing of it. It was a non-event for me; it had no effect on my life.

“The woman I was dating at the time was concerned about my breathing and made a doctor’s appointment for me. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time. I probably should have listened to her.”

Friel with his only grandson, Cameron Clark, and Cameron’s mother (and Friel’s youngest daughter), Kim.

Since that diagnosis, Friel, a 66-year-old Villas resident, had what he called a “Jesus moment,” stopped smoking after 47 years, and came to realize how serious the diagnosis was. He was lucky enough to turn his life around, he said, with the help and support of family, medical staff and God, and last July he underwent a double-lung transplant after being on a waiting list for about a year.

At one point, he had only 13% lung capacity; today he’s at 93%. He was taking 60 medications a day; now he is down to 27, four of which are anti-rejection drugs he will need to take for life. He used to play 160 rounds of golf a year; now he is looking forward to making a comeback and starting to play again. He got married to a different woman and is enjoying his children and nine grandchildren.

“God gave me a second chance,” Friel said, “with this unmerited gift of a lung transplant. I should be dead.”

Instead, he is training for the Captain Bill Gallagher 10-mile Island Run in August, which he ran in 1995.

Each April, Donate Life America leads National Donate Life Month, an observance focusing national attention on the need and importance of organ, eye and tissue donation. National Donate Life Month is about the importance of registering the decision to be a donor, honoring deceased and living donors, and celebrating the lives they saved. It is the generosity of donors and donor families that makes saving lives through transplantation possible.

April is National Donate Life Awareness Month. Photo Credit: Donate Life America

“When I got the call that I was the primary candidate for the lungs, I was really excited because I knew both of my lungs were shot,” Friel recalled. “The chief transplant surgeon at Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia, was going to do the surgery, and it gave me hope beyond my wildest dreams. It was going to be a very dramatic change to my life.”

He said one of the things that helped him get fitted for a lung transplant was the fact that he is average in height at 5 feet 10 inches, and average in weight at 170 pounds. His blood type is the most common, another factor in his favor.

“You might think it’s an easy decision,” he said about going forward with the transplant, “but it’s a life-or-death decision. You are on the clock. I got the call at 4 p.m., and I was thrilled to drive myself to the hospital because I had been told that I would probably need an ambulance to get there.

“When I signed up to be on the transplant list, I indicated I would take it from anyone, from anybody I could. My donor was a 41-year-old homicide victim, and the family wanted to say goodbye. I was glad to hear that the victim was cared for by his family.”

After 12 hours of surgery and three days on a ventilator, Friel knew he was going to be OK. He stayed in the hospital for three weeks, an extra week because he developed an infection.

“I would walk the hallways, doing what I needed to do,” he said. “The nursing staff at Temple was great; they knew what to expect and made sure I knew what to expect.”

Friel was all smiles after his double-lung transplant last summer.

He continued his recovery at home, staying with one daughter for a couple of weeks, his son and then his other daughter, who is an emergency room nurse at Temple. “She said I should be taking care of myself, so I went home,” he said. “I was set up there in my house, which had no stairs. I had great friends who helped as well.”

Friel moved to the area in 2007 to be near his mother after his Dad died. He moved to a home without stairs, as he was already noticing changes in his health due to COPD. “You have to be in perfect health to get onto the transplant list,” he said, describing how he tried to get on the list for four years.

He had a “Jesus moment” at one point, still trying to get healthy and do what he needed to do because his condition was deteriorating. “I was thrown out of the class,” he admitted. “My daughter, who is the nurse, said I had to do what I needed to do.

“The last two years I was on oxygen 24 hours a day. I figured these were my last days. And it’s not fun times, you have zero chance at dating,” he said, chuckling. “It was not fun times.”

He was still not eating properly and still smoking. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at one point, and thought he was a “dead man walking. The doctor said it was non-metastatic, so I got treatment and was good to go. I had a Jesus moment, realizing I needed to make some major changes if I wanted to live.”

He was going to the hospital twice a month for bloodwork, once giving 32 vials of blood for various tests. He improved his diet and quit smoking before finally getting on the list.

“It was a miracle that I got a lung,” he said, “especially because everything has to be perfect.”

Friel said he is not yet ready to interact with his donor’s family in any way, but wants the family to know “their loved one did not die in vain.”

Now, he considers himself one of the lucky ones. He realizes that he “can’t take his body with him” when he dies, so he is on the donor list for his eyes, an opportunity, he said, to give back.

“This was an unmerited gift,” he said about his double lung transplant. “Now, I want to enjoy my kids and grandkids and life, as God has given me a second chance.”

Contact the author, Karen Knight, at


Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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