WATCH ABOVE: Sgt. Mike Nowacki shared his story with reporters Monday
CHICAGO — Sunday was quite a busy day for Chicago Police SWAT Sgt. Mike Nowacki.
The 19-year CPD veteran and SWAT medic ran the Allstate Hot Chocolate 15K in 50 pounds of gear with the “crazy idea” to propose to his girlfriend, Officer Erin Gubala, when he saw her at finish line.
As he neared the end of the race, Nowacki said he was trying to think of something good to say when he popped the question. But then about 150 yards out he put his plans on hold to answer calls for help.
“I hear people screaming, ‘medic, medic,'” Nowacki said during a press conference Monday. “Training kinda kicked in and I went towards a crowd of people around a female laying on the ground.”
Nowacki said the woman was going through cardiac arrest, and had no pulse and was not breathing. He said he and a firefighter from Indiana jumped into action, doing chest compressions and radioing for EMS.
A member of CPD’s bicycle unit, Gubala was actually at the finish line because she was working at the time. When runners informed emergency crews there someone had fallen nearby, she said she was concerned because it was hard to determine exactly where the person was through the “sea of people.”
“That’s when I heard his callsign come over the radio and heard him say he was administering CPR,” Gubala said.
After paramedics with Superior Ambulance arrived, Nowacki said they gave the woman oxygen and put her on a backboard before loading her into the ambulance. Then he finished the race.
Since he was wearing full SWAT gear including his helmet, Gubala said she didn’t even see him coming.
“Before I knew it he was running at me, crossing the finish line,” she said. “He got down on one knee and I thought that he was hurt, and then he said, ‘Erin, I don’t know what to say,’ and then I realized what was going on.”
Nowacki said he went with a classic in the moment: “will you marry me?”
Gubala said she finally said yes when she realized what was going on, and they tried to hug even though it was hard to do so with all their equipment on.
“We were so far away from each other,” she joked.
Nowacki described the whole event as “serendipitous.”
“If I had run a little slower or a little faster, I would have never encountered the young lady,” he said. “And [Gubala] had to say yes after that.”
The woman was taken to Northwester Memorial Hospital, where doctors said Nowacki’s actions and the quick response by paramedics saved her life. She’s expected to recover, although the cause of her cardiac arrest is unclear.
“As a police officer we go towards the sound of gunfire, and then as a SWAT medic we also have that instinct of going towards someone who’s calling for a medic,” Nowacki said.
Nowacki said he “went home and passed out,” exhausted from the day’s events and fielding calls from media. After she finished her shift, Gubala said they celebrated their engagement with a well-deserved rest and some Netflix.