Bluffton native is San Francisco hero after saving drowning tourist

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Bluffton native Aaron Shiansky hadn't planned on taking a dip in San Francisco Bay's 50-degree water in January.

But when he heard shouts for help, the lifelong swimmer and former Hilton Head Island beach lifeguard jumped right in.

The rescue that followed saved the life of a drowning Taiwanese tourist and earned Shiansky the title of hero from San Francisco's mayor and local news outlets.

On Thursday, the Taiwanese consulate -- the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco -- also honored Shiansky at an award ceremony.

It all started Jan. 18, when the 26-year-old Shiansky spent the day showing his younger brother, Jacob, and uncle, Maurice Farinas, around the city. A software salesman, Shiansky moved to the Bay Area more than three years ago after graduating from the University of South Carolina.

To end their tour, the trio went to watch the sunset near the Golden Gate Bridge at Crissy Field park , Shiansky said. That's when they heard shouts for help near the pier.

When they got there, they found an unconscious woman who had tripped and fell into the water, Shiansky said. A college student from China had jumped in to try to help her, but he was struggling to keep her afloat.

That's when I decided I was going to jump in," Shiansky said.

Propping himself up on the piling beneath the pier, Shiansky and a third good Samaritan kept the woman afloat while his brother called 911.

"I've done a number of rescues on Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, but it's a whole other ball game with the cold water," Shiansky said.

A U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat arrived, and Shiansky performed the first rounds of CPR compressions on the woman on the boat. "She was completely full of water -- no pulse, no breathing," he said.

At the emergency room, doctors told Shiansky the victim's heart had stopped for more than 10 minutes, and her body temperature had fallen to 87 degrees.

The woman, Sho Uging, a college professor in Taiwan, spent a week in the hospital, including three and a half days in a coma, Shiansky said.

Shiansky visited her every day. After about week, she awoke, and they met for the first time, he said.

"Miraculously, she's got no severe brain damage, and she's going to make a complete recovery," he said.

The story was first told on the local ABC News affiliate and caught the attention of Mayor Ed Lee, who invited Shiansky and this fellow good Samaritans to City Hall last month to receive awards for their courage and quick action.

His parents, Ira and Enid Shiansky of Bluffton, flew to San Francisco for the city's Chinese New Year's parade Feb. 15 to meet the mayor and local officials.

"I'm so proud of him," Ira Shiansky said. "... This has just been a ride for us as parents like you wouldn't believe."

Uging has returned to Taiwan, and Aaron Shiansky says he stays in touch with her almost every day through social media.

She's even invited him to come visit.

"I think I'd like to take her up on that some day," he said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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