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Heart attack didn't end his love for library

(ran PAS edition)

Gene Coppola tires easily and occasionally suffers from shortness of breath, ever since his heart attack nearly five months ago.

The one that left no doubt he would need a new heart.

But his medical problems could not keep him from coming to Land O'Lakes, where Coppola is known as branch manager of the local library, to talk about the place he enjoys so much.

"This is what I love to do," Coppola, 41, told about 30 people at the Land O'Lakes Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting at Steve's Fountain View Restaurant. "This is my job."

It was the Tampa resident's first public appearance since he was sidelined by a heart attack and put on a waiting list for a new heart.

Before Coppola described some services and materials offered by the library, he thanked the chamber members for their support.

"I cannot put into words how much it means to me," he said.

Then he decided to give the description a shot.

"I'll say it in plain Brooklyn English: It means a hell of a lot to me."

He said the library has reference books, videos and computer sources useful to businesses. He also said cassette recordings of fiction and management techniques are available at the library.

"The bottom line is we want to give you a reason to come in," he said. "Your public library . . . is probably the best bargain in town."

The library will also have Internet access in early September.

"It will be a wonderful business tool," said Michelle Facto, the library's interim branch manager.

Since his heart attack, Coppola has been resting at home. He spends his time getting more familiar with the Internet, cooking and reading.

"I read whatever I want, whenever I can," he said. "I make a really good meatloaf.

"I'm getting really good at the barbecue."

Coppola also spends his time keeping up with his favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees.

"I get to fulfill a dream that I haven't had since I was a kid," said Coppola, a Manhattan native and longtime Yankees fan.

During the meeting, Coppola was surprised by a card handed to him by Joan Turner of Florida Blood Services.

The card, which read "A gift from our hearts," listed the names of everyone who donated blood during four blood drives held in Coppola's name.

Turner said the card, which included 95 names, was a good indication of how popular Coppola is in the community.

"They just came from all over just to show what they think of Gene," she said. "It's awesome. It's such a close-knit community."

Coppola said he was touched by the card, which almost brought him to tears.

"It's a macho thing," he said. "You don't cry in front of people."

Coppola also dropped by the library on Collier Parkway on Monday.

"I think he just wants to keep tabs on everyone," Facto said. "Plus, he misses it."