Now, following a transplant, he's not taking anything for granted, CBS2's Dave Carlin reported Thursday.
"So, we always love being out with my kids, playing with them outside," Christopher Frey said.
Frey, 39, is a married father of two sons, ages 2 and 3.
He said what makes him younger than his kids is coming up on the year anniversary of getting his new heart and his second life.
During a tough transplant journey, he said he told himself, "No matter what, I'm going to get through this. I have a family I have to go home to. I have boys to raise."
He said it was Thanksgiving Day 2020 when he felt weak. He knew to get it checked because his heart problems dated back to his childhood.
At Mount Sinai Hospital, he was told his heart was heavy with fluid.
"I was in heart failure," he said. "And they said the only way that you'll be able to leave this hospital is if you get a heart transplant."
Last Christmas, before the transplant, he said was his lowest point. His wife, Christine, had to be in their Miller Place home with sons Patrick and Charlie, and he said said it felt empty to FaceTime and pretend to be happy.
A new heart became his on Jan. 26, following an 18-hour surgery. He does not know the identity of the donor.
"I'm so thankful to be alive, but I'm also sad that I know someone else had to give up their life in order for me to survive," Frey said.
The family reunited in their home in March.
"My wife has been amazing," Frey said.
For the family, a Christmas they'd like to forget has been followed by this one, featuring revived hope, love and strength.
"Prior to this, I would be out of breath walking to the end of my driveway," Frey said.
When asked what advice he has for other people, "Speak up. That's the biggest thing. Maybe it's always a good time to get a second opinion. See the right doctor."
Frey's doctors at Mount Sinai said this goes to show that people need to get checked if something doesn't feel right. Don't use the pandemic to hesitate or delay.
"It's better to get checked out than to push it off into the future," said Dr. Anu Lala, an associate professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai.
"To let him come together with his wife and kids, there could be nothing better," added Dr. Ali Zaidi, who specializes in congenital heart disease.
Feeling very merry again, Frey has so much to celebrate this Christmas.
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