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18 December 2015

From Health Scare to Happy Ending: District Director Reflects on a Special Naturalization Ceremony

(By Sarah Taylor, District Director for the Washington District. Photos by Stella Lane)

Life is precious. As district director for the Washington District since 2008, I cannot think of a time that I felt more blessed by the opportunity to naturalize someone than I did yesterday. On Sept. 5, Mr. Gaddam and his wife came to our office for their naturalization interviews. He hadn’t even stepped onto the elevator when he collapsed. The security officers immediately began to administer CPR until the Fairfax County EMTs arrived to continue these life-saving efforts. When I was notified that someone had collapsed, I went downstairs to see if there was anything I could do to help. Seeing that Mrs. Gaddam was in distress, I offered her a hug and remained by her side until they left for the hospital. When Mr. Gaddam left, he was breathing but unconscious. Throughout the first days in the hospital, they were not sure he would survive.

But survive he did. 

He remained in the hospital for 24 days, his wife and two grown daughters constantly at his side. Our Field Office Director Kimberly Zanotti kept in steady contact with them on the phone to receive updates on his health and to assist in keeping their naturalization on track. When the time was right, we sent an immigration services officer to their home to conduct their naturalization interview and test. Both of them passed with flying colors!  When offered the opportunity for a home-bound naturalization ceremony, Mr. Gaddam declined, saying that he really wanted to come back into our office to be able to personally thank everyone who had been instrumental in saving his life. 

So it came to pass that Mr. and Mrs. Gaddam came to the Washington Field Office for their naturalization ceremony on Dec. 17. When they entered the building for this happy occasion and very emotional reunion, Security Officer Boateng ran over to them and warmly embraced Mr. Gaddam. After completing the pre-ceremony paperwork, they were escorted to our conference room where we all reconnected with hugs and tears.   

From the field security manager and chief of staff who managed the overall situation, to the immigration services officer who saw him collapse and called for help, the room was filled with both animated story-telling and a great deal of humility and grace. What a joy it was to see them on such a happy occasion, and to know what might have happened had our security officers not been able to act so quickly and expertly. 

From left: Officer Boateng, Mr. Gaddam, District Director Sarah Taylor, Officer Henderson, Mrs. Gaddam, Field Office Director Kimberly Zanotti.

Mr. Gaddam remarked to me that had he collapsed on his drive to our office, or even in the parking lot, help would not have arrived in time to save him.  He credits his second chance in life to the fact that he was in our building within seconds of life-saving help at the moment he needed it most.

Lucas Guttentag, senior counselor to the USCIS director, came to our office to personally present certificates of appreciation to Security Officers Boateng and Henderson who provided the life-saving CPR. (Another Officer, Islam, was not able to attend the gathering.)  

Senior Counselor Lucas Guttentag presents the certificates of appreciation to Officers Boateng (left) and Henderson (right).

The certificates, which were signed by USCIS Director León Rodríguez, read, in part:

“With deep appreciation for your heroic efforts, administering life-saving CPR to a USCIS customer on September 3, 2015. Thank you for your meritorious service, vigilance, and continued support to the customers and employees of the USCIS Washington District Office.” 

Senior Counselor Lucas Guttentag, District Director Sarah Taylor and Field Office Director Kimberly Zanotti happily present Mr. Gaddam with his naturalization certificate.

Mr. and Mrs. Gaddam were among 19 candidates from 13 countries who took the Oath of Allegiance that day: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cambodia, Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mongolia, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

Taking the Oath of Allegiance.

During the ceremony, Guttentag commended the American quality of resolve to never give up. “Many times it is our community – our friends, neighbors and fellow Americans – that come alongside us and help us to get that second chance.

New citizens Mr. and Mrs. Gaddam recite the Pledge of Allegiance with their daughters by their side.

All of us at USCIS, and especially the members of this field office, are thankful that we were able to be the community you needed in your time of crisis.”

No truer words. I am so thankful for this happy ending.

Mrs. Gaddam looks on proudly as her husband is interviewed by a television station that came to tell the story of his happy ending.



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