Bernard Paet’s New Lease on Life.In 1946, Zacarias Paet, and his fellow Sakadas, toiled the fields for many hours. Hardworking and dedicated, they enjoyed a simple diet with mainstays of rice, vegetables and fish. But they were robust and healthy men. They worked hard with the hope their children would have a better life and wouldn’t need to be out in the sun, toiling in the sugar or pineapple fields.
Many of the Sakadas’ children would go to school and return home to be an active part of Maui’s community. But the children would grow up with a heavier diet of meat and rice and access to alcohol. Coupled with the stress of working long hours to make ends meet, the next generations developed health problems such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Zacarias’ son, Bernard, would chase the American dream of climbing the social ladder through education and hard work. After graduating from St. Anthony High School in 1971, he received an Associate in Arts degree in Accounting and an Associate in Arts degree in Business from Honolulu Business College. After college, he bookkept for Blackfield Hawaii Corporation and then moved on to Foodland, first as a meat wrapper and then as a meat manager.
Bernard returned home in August 1979, when his parents offered to rent their Oha‘a Street residence (four houses away from Maui Filipino labor leader Pepito Ragasa) for only $300. Bernard continued to work at Foodland but became interested in the catering business. While still employed at Foodland, Bernard started “Happy Cooks” with Andres Oania. Bernard and Andres worked together for five years until Andres left to open Aurelio’s. Bernard continued Happy Cooks with his family. During this period, Bernard attended a PSI seminar and eventually became a PSI seminar speaker. In 1991, with a confidence acquired through PSI, Bernard to left Foodland and opened Bentos & Banquets on North Church Street in Wailuku. When Cupie’s Drive-in became available in 2003, Bernard and his partner, Song Solagross, purchased Cupie’s, with Bentos & Banquets relocating to Cupie’s Kamehameha Avenue site in 2008 when the North Church Street lease expired.
Those in the restaurant and catering business know its challenges and stresses. By September 2016, Bernard’s weight had increased to 248 lbs. He was on daily medication for diabetes, gout, and an enlarged heart. Bernard started a weight loss plan, reducing his rice, pork, and drinking.
By May 2017, Bernard had lost some thirty pounds but he continued to work hard—and play hard. He personally felt his health was good—he had no pain, no shortness of breath, no symptoms of anything. He felt so good that one day after work, he killed a goat, drank a bottle and a half of wine, played cards until 1 a.m., and was back at work at 5:30 a.m. “I’m a happy go lucky guy. I love to have fun,” explained Bernard.
And then—it happened.
At 4:30 p.m. on May 13, 2017, Bernard finished cooking for Holy Ghost Church’s dinner meeting. Scheduled to deliver the food and after loading the last tray of food into the van, Bernard went into Cupie’s and collapsed, gasping for air.
Bernard suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)—what’s commonly called a heart attack.
Song called 911 and she began giving Bernard CPR. Song had been enrolled in the Maui Community College nursing program but stopped when she and Bernard opened Cupie’s. The police arrived first, followed by the firemen, with the ambulance arriving within four to five minutes.
Published medical studies in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine have found that of the more than 300,000 cardiac arrests in the United States, less than ten percent who suffer an out of the hospital cardiac arrest survive.
At Cupie’s, Bernard was given an electric shock with the defibrillator. No success.
Another electric shock. Still no response.
A third electric shock. Nothing.
After the fourth electric shock by the medical team, Bernard was still not responding so the emergency team decided to transport Bernard to Maui Memorial Medical Center.
In the ambulance, Bernard was given a fifth electric shock. Still nothing.
A sixth electric shock did not produce any results.
But the seventh electric shock did.
Bernard wouldn’t be out of the woods yet. “I was told there were about forty people praying for me. There was a vigil outside in the waiting room, which was full. Only two people at a time could come in to the room.” I learned they prayed for me ‘Shine a light on him,’” Bernard said. “When one or more pray, the prayer is stronger. I’ve experienced it. It’s chicken skin.”
Bernard was placed in an induced coma for two days. “They froze my brain and my intestines,” said Bernard. “They didn’t want my heart to overwork and they wanted to keep my temperature down.”
Bernard’s near death experience would strengthen his faith. “When folks in a near death experience tell me they saw St. Peter’s with the long beard, I didn’t believe it. Now I believe. It was weird. It was just white. It was so bright the light, it was all around. I was thinking ‘Where am I?’ And then I woke up. And somebody asked me, ‘How are you?’”
Bernard had experienced the white light phenomenon. “I’ve heard of the white light before. I never believed when people would talk about it,” said Bernard. “I didn’t see St. Peter,” explains Bernard, “I just saw the white light.”
For five days, although Bernard was awake, he doesn’t remember anything. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) was inserted. “When the heart goes down, it’s supposed to shock to bring the heart back,” said Bernard “but so far, I haven’t had a shock since that time.” After ten days in ICU, Bernard was released from Maui Memorial, with his weight down to 197 lbs. At Maui Memorial, Bernard’s medical team was led by Drs. Howard Barbarosh and Jeffrey Drood. “Thanks to HMSA, my share of the $50,000+ bill will probably be between $5,000 and $7,000,” said Bernard, whose monthly premiums are over $650.
Bernard stayed at home for a month and didn’t need any new medications. “But I was so sore. It took me a month and a half before I could turn side to side,” Bernard recalls. “And my ribs were so sore from the seven times they shocked me.” Nevertheless, Bernard feels very fortunate. “I’m lucky. There was no stroke, no brain damage and no paralysis because of the immediate CPR by Song,” he said. “My blood pressure has always been good, even in the hospital, my blood pressure was okay.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “genetic factors likely play some role in blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions.” In Bernard’s family, there is a history of heart disease. “My father Zacarias died in 1993 of a heart attack on a Sunday morning when he was getting ready for church; he was in good shape but he still suffered a heart attack. Uncle Minong also died of a heart attack and I have three first cousins who died of a heart attack.”
Almost three months after his heart attack, Bernard is back at work. His hours are reduced significantly, two to three hours a day except for when there’s a catering job. But Bernard doesn’t go on-site for catering. Bernard, who can’t be on his feet too long, helps with the cooking and tasting the food. “I’m old school with respect to taste. I’m a salt and pepper man—and garlic.”
The business continues with Song and the employees handling day-to-day activities while Bernard’s son Matthew, a fireman at Wailea, assists with catering. “For our catering jobs, our roast pork and Thai fried chicken is the best. And our Hawaiian menu does real good. It’s the cheapest in town, can’t beat the price,” he proudly says.
Looking back, the 63-year-old, realizes he had too much stress, too much on his plate. “It was all leading up to it. I was working long hours at work plus renovating a house,” said Bernard. He’s committed to having a healthy life style. “It’s hard to go on a diet,” he says, “your mind has to be strong because it’s mind over matter. I believe in that because I’ve done it. Bernard explains his diet regiment: “Now I don’t eat as much. I eat smaller portions. For me, the key is the rice. I eat rice, three times a week. Watch your rice. You can eat meat but not too much. At night, don’t eat after 7 p.m.”
Bernard says he’s active—always doing something. His goal is to walk 9,000 steps a day and on a recent Thursday and Friday, he met his goal. On a recent Saturday, he exceeded his goal and walked 12,577 steps. On his day off on Sunday, he walked 2,851 steps.
Bernard advises to “drink plenty of water.” His alcohol intake is reduced. “I hardly drink. I can’t stand light beer because the beer has to have taste. Everything I do has to have taste,” explained Bernard. “Plus, you have to keep your body and mind in shape. If you’re going to go on a diet, you have to do it. I don’t believe in the word ‘try.’ Just like in life, if you make life hard, it will be hard. If you make it easy, it will flow. I really believe in the PSI saying, ‘to think, is to create.’”
“And the bottom line is health. Without health, you are nothing.”