Off-Duty Nurse Performs Lifesaving CPR on San Francisco Sidewalk
Jul 2, 2024
Sutter Health
A woman stands on a city street outside a restaurant

Photo: Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation Registered Nurse Rachel Heller visits the exact spot outside of Mel’s Kitchen where she performed lifesaving CPR on a collapsed man during her lunch break in June of 2023.

By Clayton Warren, Vitals contributor

In April 2023, Rachel was on her lunch break near Sutter’s Van Ness Medical Office Building in San Francisco when a man collapsed outside of Mel’s Kitchen and lost his pulse.

Rachel and her mother Sara Heller, who is also a registered nurse, saw several bystanders surround the man and rushed to see if they could help assist a woman who had started CPR. Trained as a critical care nurse, Rachel quickly assessed the situation and offered to take over chest compressions.

“For several minutes I watched Rachel perform excellent CPR,” said Sara. “The gentleman became conscious briefly and then lost consciousness. 9-1-1 had been called and we could hear the sirens coming.”

Rachel continued to perform CPR for four to five minutes before the San Francisco Fire Department arrived and transported the man in an ambulance.

“My instincts and training really took over in that moment and I felt like I did everything that I could to save this man’s life,” recalls Rachel. “When he was loaded into the ambulance and taken away, we had no idea of whether he was going to survive.”

A Surprising Encounter and Good News

Several weeks later, Rachel went into Mel’s Kitchen where the incident occurred to grab a soft drink and the hostess immediately recognized Rachel as the young woman who performed CPR on the sidewalk. The two women embraced each other and the hostess had great news: SFFD returned to Mel’s Kitchen and told the staff that the gentleman who collapsed had survived!

A woman in a plaid blazer and jeans holds up a Red Cross medal and award certificate

Rachel Heller, BSN, RN, CCRN, a Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation nurse specialist on Sutter’s Structural Heart Team receives the Red Cross Certificate of Merit Lifesaving Award for performing CPR on a collapsed man on a public sidewalk in San Francisco.

“I was completely overcome with emotions upon hearing that this man survived,” recalls Rachel. “I was trying to process this traumatic situation and it was difficult not knowing whether this man I performed CPR on was alive or not. Receiving this great news brought some wonderful closure for me and my family.”

Rachel credits her professional training as a nurse for being able to stay calm under immense pressure.

“Performing CPR in that situation was quite different than running a ‘code blue’ in the hospital,” she says. “There weren’t any monitors or a lot of helping hands on that sidewalk. But I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

Rachel who has been a heart transplant nurse at Sutter for more than four years says that nursing is her true calling in life and she’s devoted to working with heart patients undergoing transplants and other procedures.

“I’m proud to be a nurse and have the ability to help support our community,” Rachel says. “I live and work in San Francisco and I’m grateful that my efforts helped save a life.”

For her heroic efforts, Rachel received the Certificate of Merit Lifesaving Award at an American Red Cross special event at the Presidio Golf Club on June 26, 2024. Rachel also received an honorary proclamation and was joined by her family and friends.

Recent Articles