TRAVERSE CITY — Bikes — riding and maintaining them — saved Bernie Fontichiaro’s life.
Fontichiaro, 61, is not the kind of guy who struts his bike shorts around town. His voice booms, he’s not petite and his hair puts the close-cropped rider “do” to shame. He’s a Dearborn man and proudly chooses American-made products over other considerations.
Fontichiaro’s essential components are the same, but his life post-heart attack took his family on a different ride.
A decade ago the family Fontichiaro had just moved across the lake from Chicago to Grand Haven. Husband Bernie Fontichiaro was a hotshot advertising executive. Gretchen Fontichiaro, his wife, was adjunct professor at Baker College. They had six children and were pulling down six figures.
Then a major coronary took the ad game off the table when Fontichiaro almost died in February 2003.
“It was very scary. I remembered him waking me up; he was as white as a ghost and shaking,” recalled Gretchen Fontichiaro, 50.
Bernie Fontichiaro was practically “dead on arrival.” His heart was so blown up that surgeons had to remove it to work on it, he said.
“They massaged it, and hoped that it fired back up again,” Fontichiaro said.
It did. But life’s complications soon overshadowed the thrill of skirting death.
Bernie Fontichiaro was fragile and recovering, unable to work. He had no insurance, and “no career,” as his doctor forbade his return to the advertising business.
“I was plain flat-grounded from a career as account executive for 26 years,” Bernie Fontichiaro said. “Doctor’s orders.”
Being “a man without a career” was harder then anything he’s done, he said.
“It was a very bad time for us,” Bernie Fontichiaro said.
Gretchen Fontichiaro, seeing her husband’s frustration, sent Bernie and their middle son, Sean Fontichiaro, to Park Tool School as a late Christmas present. Park Tool Co. School is a training system designed for the home bike mechanic. Bernie Fontichiaro always enjoyed tinkering around with the family bikes.