Daniel Cineus had a lot to celebrate Friday.
He became a U.S. citizen.
Even better, he was alive.
About three months ago, Cineus, 76, collapsed at the U.S. immigration office in Orlando just as he was about to undergo his final interview — the last step before taking the oath of citizenship.
Fortunately for Cineus, Immigration Officer Jose Santiago happened to be walking by. Santiago, an Army veteran who was a combat medic early in his career, administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation with the help of another immigration officer.
"He wasn't breathing at all," Santiago said.
After five mouth-to-mouth breaths, Cineus revived. The breaths were shallow and hard, but he was alive.
"It seemed like an eternity to me," Santiago recalled.
Someone called 911, and emergency-medical workers arrived and rushed Cineus to a hospital, where he spent nine days after undergoing surgery.
He doesn't remember any of the rescue, but he's glad Santiago was there to save him.
The men reunited for the first time Friday at the same office, where Cineus was one of about 80 people who became new citizens.
"I feel fabulous," said Cineus, who originally is from Haiti and speaks limited English. "I love to see my friend, my brother.
"I don't know what I owe you," he said, grinning and putting an arm around a smiling Santiago.
Like many immigrants, Cineus left Haiti because of the country's poverty and limited opportunities.
He has been living in the U.S. since 1980, when he arrived in Miami by boat and was granted asylum. He lived in South Florida, where he picked oranges, and later with a daughter in New Jersey before moving to Orlando in 1991, he said.
Over the years, Cineus also worked at a warehouse and cleaned parking lots. He was a houseman at hotels in the Orlando area before retiring about seven years ago.
Widowed in 2010, Cineus said he finally decided to become a citizen after his relatives in Haiti died and his four children became U.S. citizens.
He wants to live — and die — in America with his family, including 19 grandchildren, he said through Joseph Geffrard, a nephew by marriage.
He's also eager to vote, Cineus said as he held a small American flag given to all the new citizens.
It's all possible because of Santiago.
"I am very grateful," Cineus told Santiago. "God bless you."
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