To those who know him, Pat Apoian defines what it means to be a hero.
Apoian, a nine-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department can always be counted on to help others in need.
Last year, the detective founded Humble Heroes, an organization dedicated to helping police officers and firefighters and their families.
"I kept hearing about guys who were sick with cancer," Apoian said, noting several friends encouraged him to do something more formalized, leading to the charity's formation.
Proceeds from one early fundraiser went to help the family of a Ken Coppola — a fellow officer battling stage-four cancer — to ease the family's financial strains.
Coppola died last December.
Since its launch, Humble Heroes has helped about 12 people and their families. It has expanded to include collection drives for toys, such as an event this past Easter that netted 22 giant boxes of toys for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
This week, Apoian's group is putting together a list of businesses that will serve as drop-off points for a coats and canned goods food drive that Humble Heroes is collecting for through Nov. 18.
Apoian, who is assigned to APD's Zone 6, which includes the Kirkwood, East Lake and East Atlanta Village neighborhoods, says he's not doing anything that the next person wouldn't do.
"I think a lot of the guys that I work with, have a very deep sense of giving back," Apoian said. "It's not just me. I don't think I'm more than the next person."
Those who know him see it differently.
“He cares about people, he does the right thing, he’s a good cop and an honest person,” said Margie Yondorf, who sits on the Humble Heroes board and is public safety liaison for the Kirkwood Neighbors Organization.
So when Apoian was run over by a motorist during a traffic stop in Kirkwood this past July, helping him and his family in their time of need wasn't even a question.
It explains the number of fundraisers that have been organized by Kirkwood residents and in neighboring East Lake, where Apoian has worked off-duty security patrol. The fundraisers are designed to help the family with hospital bills and other expenses.
Even as he was hospitalized, Yondorf noted Apoian was still organizing events to help others in need: two days after being run over, Apoian organized a fundraiser from his hospital bed for Marian Coffield, a single mom of three in Southwest Atlanta who lost all her money in a burglary. He wanted to ensure she had had money to buy school supplies for her three daughters.
“That’s just Pat,” Yondorf said. “He’s always thinking of helping other people. He’s a good friend to people.”
Now, his friends, neighbors and even strangers are trying to be a good friend to him, raising money for Apoian — who still has months of rehabilitation and physical therapy ahead of him — and his family.
Standing on community support
The East Lake neighborhood has joined with another local group — Heroes-Helping-Heroes — for a day-long golf tournament and after party fundraiser for Apoian on Oct. 22 at the Heritage Golf Links in Tucker.
The entry fee is $100 per player and registrations are being accepted up to and through the day of the tournament, which includes a Chick-fil-A breakfast at 9 a.m. and an 11 a.m. shotgun start.
"I think he enjoys so much support because he tells it like it is and has really done a lot to make East Lake a safer, more enjoyable place to live," said Kyle Caldwell, vice president of the East Lake Neighbors Community Association.
Apoian helped East Lake's security patrol focus on the local needs of the neighborhood, he said, adding people can't help but like him.
"I imagine that is even difficult for the bad guys to hold a grudge against him too long," Caldwell said.
Indeed, Apoian said he's received well-wishes and messages for a speedy recovery not just from friends, family and law enforcement colleagues, but also from people who've run afoul of the law.
Some of them, whom he's had to arrest in the past, have asked the arresting officers to relay their best wishes for his recovery.
" 'He's really a good guy,' " Apoian said, recounting several of the messages from arrestees, which fellow officers have relayed back to him. " 'OK, he locked up my brother, but he still helped my mom.' "
Dealing with crime and some of the worst of humanity on a daily basis can leave police officers jaded, but Apoian said the support from the community and colleagues has been a blessing.
“I don’t think I could describe it. It’s just been incredible,” he said.
“It makes you feel like you did something right all of those years. You see so much that’s bad in my job and sometimes you lose faith in people, but this has restored it.”
'I love you.'
The night he was run over by the Honda Accord, the first thing Apoian did was reach for his mobile phone to call his wife.
He knew he was injured but wasn’t sure to what extent.
A 2,800-pound vehicle ran over him. His chest felt as if it had been crushed.
If he had life-threatening internal injuries, he wanted to make sure he spoke with his wife and son one more time.
“I scrambled to get out of the way and grabbed my cell phone and called my wife,” Apoian said, recalling the July 21 hit–and-run that left him hospitalized at Grady Memorial for three weeks.
“I told her ‘I’m injured, I wanted to call you and tell you I love you’ and that I wanted to talk to my son and tell him 'I love you,' too.”
His injuries were extensive: A torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a fractured right knee and tibia, multiple fractures in his pelvis, cracked ribs and a mangled right foot.
The foot was so badly crushed, people told him it looked like it was partially torn off.
Two surgeries and one skin graft later, his foot is healing.
There was a recent setback with a staph infection in that foot, which led to the second surgery, but a check-up on Thursday yielded positive results.
He can try to put some weight on it now as part of his rehabilitation.
Doctors have told him it may take up to a year for it to fully heal.
And even then, he may walk with a slight limp.
Khalif Edwards, the Decatur man accused of running Apoian over wit his Accord following a traffic stop on College Avenue, surrendered himself to authorities on Aug. 15.
Edwards is charged with aggravated assault, aggravated battery, simple battery, and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. He also is charged with cruelty to children in the third degree since the incident occured with a woman and her 1- and 2-year-old children riding in the Accord as passengers.
Focused on the positive and homework
Apoian, who said he's eager to return to work, has kept busy focusing on what he can do as he heals: helping others. The last couple of weeks have been about finding businesses and other organizations willing to be designated locations for the coat and food drive.
He also focuses on things that bring enjoyment — his beloved New York Yankees, until being knocked out of World Series contention — and lots of reading.
His coworkers in APD's Zone 6 and the police brass downtown also keep his spirits up.
"The support's been unbelievable," Apoian said. "I can't describe the feeling I get from it. Everybody in the department, from the chief down to the guys I work with, even officers that I've never met who've come to see me."
And there's his wife and extended family.
"My wife has been unbelievable," he said. "For all the bad that’s happened, I focus on a lot of the good that’s coming out of it.
Though his rehabilitation serves as a constant reminder, Apoian says he doesn't dwell on the physical pain of his injuries. In fact, knowing how close he came to being killed, they help him stay focused on all that he stood to lose, including the two things most precious to him: his wife and son.
The night he was struck by the Honda, he said he thought a lot about his son.
"What goes through your mind is, 'If I'm not here, who's going to help him do his homework? Who's going to teach him how to shave? Who's going to teach him how to be a man?' " Apoian said, recounting his thoughts at the time.
"I just said, 'God, not for me but for my son. He needs me.'
"These injuries don't really bother me," Apoian said. "They hurt, but mentally and emotionally, I'm here and I'm still able to do my son's homework with him."