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My Brother Had a Heart Attack and I Wasn’t There

April 19, 2014

I just got off the phone with my brother Bernie, who’s walking around, sucking on oxygen and about to be released from the hospital. This is a minor miracle because the personnel at the hospital said they’ve only seen three people survive a heart attack on the golf course. Naturally, that would be where Bernie would have his heart attack because he loves golf and excitement.

Bernie playing accordion

Bernie playing his heart out while I cover my babys ears.

Thank God, his friend, John was with him. He gave CPR, called 911, yelled for help and got others to come and continue with CPR (which, we should all know because you never know when you could save somebody’s brother).

The ambulance worker  (who Bernie coached in little league) said he flatlined four times.  Flatlining one time would have been plenty, but Bernie’s always been competitive. After the fourth time, the defibrillator broke providing just the right mount of excitement; even for Bern. The ambulance got there within two minutes, but everyone was worried about brain damage.

Well, after talking to him, I feel confident he’s no more brain damaged than usual. He was his normal smart aleck self, talking about how his whole family was there and naming everyone but me because I clearly, was not there.  This is what our family lovingly calls, giving me diggers. (My mom never understood English well enough to know that you were giving someone digs, not diggers.)

My best friend, Carolyn said, “You should go.” My family said stay. Bernie’s wife said, ” Stay, there’s nothing you can do here.” And since Italian families and their friends, travel in packs of 12 or more, the hospital was already crowded with people who couldn’t do anything but bond over worrying about Bernie and think about where to eat every meal.

Plus, I have a daughter, still in high school who gives me fits over her schoolwork, so I had to think about her. If anyone would have told me what the odds were, I would have come, charged it, and worried later. But I researched, knew someone with a heart attack success story in the same situation and didn’t feel it was Bernie’s time to go. (I didn’t hear the “only three survivors” story until after Bernie was OK.)

I am ridiculously grateful Bernie’s well. He’s the guy everyone loves; the one, who, if it’s raining, will drop everyone off at the curb so they don’t get wet and walk through the rain. He’s fun, funny, loves to golf, eat, drink, coach little league, tell a great story and have a good time. He owns an insurance agency, and when you stop by to talk about insurance, you often leave with a bottle of wine or a hunk of homemade sausage.  If my agent did that I’d never leave.

Bernie giving andy booze

Bernie pretending to give my son beer.

He’s 12 years older than me and taught me to throw a spiral, beat somebody up, dance and be a smart ass. (In fairness, that was delicately honed by my older brother Bob too.) So, clearly, Bernie’s wonderful and I love him very much, even when he hurts my feelings by teasing that I might not have cared enough to fly back to Ohio to be with him and his family during all this.

What he doesn’t know is that every minute of that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I prayed for him. (I kept imagining a voice saying, “Wait, who are you again?”) To avoid confusion, I clearly stated who I was and who he was and how we were related, so the healing would go to the correct Bernie Tunno. There can’t be many, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I played his favorite late 50’s, early 60’s music and sent it to him via mental telepathy. (I haven’t finessed that skill, so I’m not sure he heard anything.) I called numerous times a day to see how he was doing. I imagined him in a coma, shivering after a heart attack and hooked up to breathing tubes and IV’s and I did a lot of crying. (He’ll tease me unmercifully over this crying admission. That’s what older brothers do to their little sisters, even ones in their 70’s and 50’s.)

I also thought, he can’t die. I hardly know him. He left when he was 18 and I was six years-old. He got married when I was 13. I moved to California and have been here for 30 plus years, so I’ve missed good bonding time. His friends know him better than I do, even if we did grow up with the same parents.

So, we clearly need more time, even if it’s not financially prudent. Sometimes you just have to spend the money and be with your family in crisis whether they want you to or not. I’ve been surrounded by death and illness this past month and I’m more convinced than ever this is true. A friend lost her mom a few weeks ago, another friend’s husband just died of cancer a few days ago and my friend, Bob, is slowly succumbing to ALS.

Bernie pretending to give my daughter beer. (Notice a theme here?)

Bernie pretending to give my daughter beer. (Notice a theme here?) Sorry, photo was scratched!

You simply have to worry about the bills later, because things like heart attacks, cancer, ALS and a bevy of rotten illnesses will just take people, like a thief snatches a diamond ring, and you’re left alone wishing you’d done more.

I wish I would have gone. Carolyn was right. Even though it would have been hell to see him that way, I could have been there offering moral support, biscotti or comic relief.

It’s these awful times,  involving sickness, injury and disaster that create the closeness that bonds a family for life.  Whether you’re waiting for someone to pull through a heart attack or slowly pass away, you go so you can be there for everyone, including yourself, and it does make a difference.

Sheesh, another lesson learned.  Guess I’ll just have to take the diggers and try to do better next time.  But I’m truly hoping there is no next time.



  • Reply
    Bernard Tunno
    June 1, 2014 at 8:25 am

    I just  read this. Don’t know how I missed it before probably because I had drain bamage! It was really touching and I even got misty. Thank You ! Bernie Tunno    President Tunno Insurance  330 758-6697


    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 9, 2014 at 11:11 pm

      Awwww, thanks Bern! I’m glad you survived! Please never do that again.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Bernie is a fraternity brother and we are relieved to hear the good news! He was in Florida about a month ago and I got to see him and two other brothers. We had a good time. He emailed me and suggested I subscribe to your blog.

    I’m no doctor but to prevent another heart attack he should take some golf lessons to improve his game thus avoiding a lot of stress:)

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 19, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Hi Willie! Thanks for following me! You may be on to something. I’ll have to suggest lessons! One of his absolute favorite things is getting together with his fraternity brothers and golfing/hanging out. You’ve probably added years to his life without even knowing it! Thanks again for reading,

  • Reply
    April 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Having never met Bernie, I know after just these few paragraphs and three pictures that I love him!! : ) I’m glad he’ll be OK. Have no regrets and look forward to future fun times!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 19, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Oh MIchele, he’s going to love that. A nice comment from a female always did have a positive effect on him. I will tell him!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

    My best advice is: Send bernie a NutriBullet and have him drink Fresh Raw Veggie & Fruit juice every day, twice a day. What he needs now is Nourishment and Low Cholestrol. That would be you nest gift to insure his health :+)))

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Sugano, you are a doll. I will definitely look into that. Right now I am in a frenzy to try to get it together for Easter, but I will check it out. Thanks for always reading!

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