'It's what we are supposed to do,' Elgin officer says of saving man's life while on vacation

Elgin police officer saves a man's life while vacationing in Michigan

This story has been updated to correct a caption.

Tauloa “Tau” Apineru has heard many times the details of how an off-duty Elgin police officer saved his life with CPR after he had a heart attack. Every time, it gets to him.

“I feel blessed and appreciate what he did for me,” Apineru said of Lt. Steve Bianchi. “He saved my life. I get emotional every time I hear this story, because I'm here today.”

The near-tragedy happened July 30 while Apineru, 54, was on a family vacation lakeside in Chassell, Michigan, where Bianchi and his family were on a vacation and college scouting trip. Bianchi, a 23-year police veteran who lives in Sleepy Hollow, said it felt good to be able to help.

“It's what we are supposed to do,” he said. “Not just as a police officer. It's what we need to do as people. As humans.”

The afternoon it happened, Bianchi was cooking steaks and prepping vegetables for dinner when he heard yelling outside, followed by his wife running in saying someone next door might be having a heart attack.

Bianchi bolted out, telling his kids to call 911 and stand by the main road to meet emergency responders. He ran into Julie Christesen, Apineru's sister-in-law, who directed him to the cabin where Apineru lay unresponsive in a back bedroom.

Tauloa "Tau" Apineru, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, said he feels blessed that Elgin police Lt. Steve Bianchi saved his life after he had a heart attack in July. Apineru is pictured here with his wife, Kathleen, and their dog, Samoa. Courtesy of Kathleen Apineru

Apineru said he remembers feeling unwell after a trip to the grocery store, lying on the bed cold and sweaty, and covering himself with a towel. “The next thing I remember, I woke up in the hospital, all hooked up to everything,” he said.

He now knows that Bianchi rushed in, dragged him onto the floor and started doing CPR compressions as Christesen did mouth-to-mouth breathing.

A local fire department volunteer showed up after a few minutes and deployed an automated external defibrillator while Bianchi and Christesen continued CPR. A few minutes later, a team of paramedics arrived and took Apineru to a hospital. He was later airlifted to another hospital, where he had surgery.

Apineru's family always will be grateful for Bianchi's presence, said Christesen, a nurse practitioner who for years worked in emergency rooms.

For one, Christesen said, she wouldn't have been able to get her brother-in-law down on the ground by herself.

“I knew I needed help, and Steve came running down, no questions asked,” she said. “I never could have compressed his chest like that. ... He was amazing. I've never seen CPR like this in my life.”

Bianchi said he simply let his training take over. “I kind of went into work mode,” he said.

His only nervousness stemmed from wondering how long it would take for help to arrive at the remote lakeside location, he said. “In my head it was like, 'I'm going to continue until I pass out.'”

Apineru, who lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said he ended up with broken ribs, which is not uncommon after CPR. “I was black and blue head to toe,” he said laughing.

He expects to go back to his job as a machine operator for a paper mill at the end of the month, he said.

“I feel very blessed, lucky,” Apineru said, “because when it happened to me, I think I had the right people around.”

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