FRIEND SAVES LIFE WITH TV'S LESSON.
This is a story about friendship and saving a life.
About Arnie Prepsky, a retired guy who would give you the shirt off his back. And about Rafael Gonzalez, a gardener and the lesson he learned watching rescues on TV news and shows like ``Baywatch.''
They've known each other about five years now, Arnie and Rafael have - ever since Rafael began supervising the landscaping crew over at Arnie's condominium complex in Agoura.
Rafael doesn't speak much English, and Arnie doesn't speak much Spanish. It makes for a wonderfully uncomplicated friendship.
Once in a while, Arnie, who's gotten deep into charity and volunteer work since retiring a few years ago as a financial investigator for banks, slips Rafael a few bucks to help him out on whatever project he's involved in.
Last Saturday, that project was in some rugged country in Topanga Canyon where The Nature of Wildworks is located. It's a wildlife animal preserve that Arnie read about in the Daily News last Christmas morning, and thought he'd check out to see if the woman running the place, Mollie Hogan, needed a hand.
Not that her husband had another hand to lend, says Arnie's wife, Beverly.
``My husband volunteers for everything and anything,'' she says. ``He's 62, but thinks he's 42. Anybody needs something, Arnie's there.''
Mollie, who is also a trainer at the Los Angeles Zoo, needed some fencing put up around Wildworks. Arnie was there - along with Rafael and a worker from the preserve - to help put up the fencing.
It was rugged country, no roads in or out. A four-wheeler got them over boulders and across creeks. But they made it and they began to work hard.
That's when Arnie felt something he never felt before. He felt his chest tighten and explode in pain.
Rafael quickly laid his friend on the ground and used Arnie's cellular phone to call 911, telling the other worker to go back to the main road and lead the emergency crew into the desolate area when it arrived.
Then, he did something he had never done before. Did something he'd only seen done on TV. Rafael gave Arnie, who had stopped breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
He pushed down hard on Arnie's chest once, twice - all the while screaming for Arnie to start breathing again.
Rafael pushed down 15 times in all on Arnie's chest before his friend's eyes finally opened and he breathed again, Rafael would tell doctors later.
Good thing, the doctors said, because one of those pushes forced a blood clot out of Arnie's vein, saving his life.
Beverly arranged for Rafael to see Arnie in the internal care unit at Tarzana Medical Center last Monday, a few days after his emergency triple bypass operation. There wasn't a dry eye in the place, she says.
``Rafael, I owe you my life,'' Arnie said, in the little Spanish he knows.
``Arnie, you are my friend, you owe me nothing,'' Rafael replied, in the little English he knows.
``Where'd you learn CPR like that?'' one of the doctors asked.
``On TV,'' Rafael said.
One of Rafael's son's nodded. ``My father watches `Baywatch' '' he said, as the room broke into laughter.
Arnie tried to pay Rafael the money he owed him for agreeing to help put in that fencing last Saturday. Rafael wouldn't hear of it.
The Prepskys' daughter, Devoree, a Woodland Hills dentist, settled the matter. Rafael would never have to worry about another dental bill for his children, she told the gardener.
Back in Agoura this week, word spread pretty fast in the Prepskys' condo complex about what happened. How Rafael, the gardener, saved Arnie's life.
Too bad her husband was still in the hospital and not home to enjoy the scene, Beverly says. He would have loved it.
It always rankled Arnie a little how some people looked through Rafael the gardener like he wasn't there or worthy of notice - how they'd get mad at him sometimes if he cut the bushes too much or too little.
Not this week.
This week, Rafael Gonzalez, the gardener who likes to watch ``Baywatch,'' was the man.
Photo: (Color) Arnie Prepsky, left, recovers from surgery with life-saving Rafael Gonzalez for company.
Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News