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Hospital exec saves man’s life on casino floor

Updated October 7, 2020 - 8:00 am

What started as a date night for one Las Vegas hospital executive ended with a potentially life-saving encounter.

Mason Van Houweling, CEO of University Medical Center, went out to dinner with his wife in downtown Las Vegas on Sept. 23. As he walked through the Golden Nugget, he saw a man on the casino floor.

The man, Pablo Bernabe, was sweating and didn’t have a pulse, Van Houweling said.

On Tuesday, Bernabe was discharged from the hospital Van Houweling runs.

“If it wasn’t for you, right now we would be planning a funeral, not a homecoming,” Bernabe’s wife, Gloria, told Van Houweling in a hospital conference room.

Bernabe and his wife came to Las Vegas from Phoenix to celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary. After walking Fremont Street, the couple was tired, Bernabe said. As they were walking through the casino, Bernabe thought he’d tripped.

“And that’s the last I remember,” Bernabe said.

Van Houweling happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The adrenaline coursed through the hospital CEO, who tapped into years of Air Force training and began chest compressions.

Bernabe was in full cardiac arrest, Van Houweling said.

Golden Nugget staff brought over an automated external defibrillator, which shocked Bernabe. Van Houweling continued compressions.

Then, in a moment Van Houweling said he will never forget, Bernabe slowly opened his right eye.

“He saved my life,” Bernabe said.

After protesting being put in an ambulance, Bernabe was ultimately taken to University Medical Center, where he underwent open heart surgery.

The timing lined up just right, Van Houweling said. A minute or two could have caused a different outcome, he said.

“I think the way he is, and the way the whole thing happened, it was like an outstanding choreography,” Bernabe’s cardiologist, Dr. Chowdhury Ahsan said.

Since that chance encounter at the Golden Nugget last month, Van Houweling and Bernabe have swapped war stories and become close friends. Van Houweling said he thinks the two were meant to meet each other.

“For me, it’s the most meaningful thing that’s ever happened in my life,” Van Houweling said. “The biggest impact in my life and it’s changed me forever.”

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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