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January 31, 2015

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Heart-attack victim, life-saving firefighter meet face to face


Leila Navidi

Gregory Castello, center, visits Capt. Mike Szoke, left, and Fire Chief Bertral Washington at Clark County Fire Station 18 on March 5, 2012. Szoke saved Castello’s life by giving him CPR while off duty at a golf course in October.

Fire Captain Saves Life

Captain Mike Szoke talks with the media at Clark County Fire Station 18 on Monday, March 5, 2012. Szoke saved Las Vegas resident Gregory Castello's life by giving him CPR while off duty at a golf course in October 2011. Launch slideshow »

Blood rushed out of the back of Greg Castello’s head as he laid motionless on the pavement outside a northwest golf course. An off-duty firefighter who came to Castello’s rescue feared he was too late.

For six minutes, Castello had stopped breathing. He had no idea Capt. Mike Szoke, 42, was saving his life by performing CPR.

Castello, who was 59 years old at the time, has no recollection of his heart attack on Oct. 10, 2011. He doesn’t remember going to work or opening the black Cadillac Escalade’s door for his passenger. He doesn’t remember clutching his chest, collapsing to the ground and cracking his skull on the cement.

“First question I asked my sister was, ‘Bonnie, did I kill anyone?'” Castello said.

Castello, a limo driver for AWG Ambassadors, a local chauffeur company, was afraid his injuries were from a car crash.

On Monday, Castello visited Szoke at a Flamingo Road fire station, minutes from the Strip. The two men shared a warm embrace and exchanged big smiles. This was the fourth time they’d seen one another since Castello’s heart attack.

“Without Mike being there, my brother would be dead because his heart stopped,” said Bonnie Castello, who was at the station taking photos. “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”

Five months ago, Castello drove his passenger 10 miles northwest of the valley and arrived at the Paiute Golf Resort for a golf tournament.

Szoke never saw Castello collapse from a heart attack, but once he noticed a man passed out on the ground, he took action.

“It just happened so fast,” Szoke said. “I just did anything anybody else would do.”

For five minutes, Szoke continued to do chest compressions and filled Castello’s lungs with air.

Szoke, who works at the golf course in his off-duty time, asked for a defibrillator he knew was inside the golf resort. The firefighter called out to a crowd of about 30 onlookers asking for someone to retrieve the small electrical generator.

Once the defibrillator was in place, Szoke sent a powerful electrical shock straight through Castello’s body. Szoke then performed CPR for another minute until Castello finally took a breath of air.

By then Las Vegas Fire and Rescue and Mercy Air — an emergency helicopter — were on scene and strapping Castello onto a gurney for a flight to Centennial Hills Hospital Medical Center.

Castello was hospitalized for 17 days, spending time in both Centennial Hills Hospital and Summerlin Hospital.

Surviving a heart attack has made Castello more self aware and willing to share his story with those around him.

“I’ve been in denial about what’s going on with me for the past 15 years,” said Castello, adding that his heart was clogged with cholesterol.

Castello now walks daily and has made changes to his diet, choosing veggies over red meat. He makes doctor’s appointments and regularly takes medicine for his heart.

“We usually don’t find out the outcome of the patients,” said Szoke, a firefighter of 19 years, adding that reunions of this nature don’t often happen.

Szoke said even though he was off duty, his firefighter training kicked in and compelled him to act.

“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” he said.

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