A photo of a woman in a pink sweatshirt sitting in a chiar.
Nyla Harris, a junior biology major and aspiring doctor, helped save a restaurant customer’s life in March. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

With quick thinking and CPR skills, pre-med student Nyla Harris helped save a restaurant customer’s life

VCU junior’s spring break brunch turned into an emergency scene at Chesterfield County diner.

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Virginia Commonwealth University junior Nyla Harris found out what it’s like to be thrust into the media spotlight after she performed CPR to help save the life of a fellow restaurant customer.

On March 8, at the end of spring break week, Harris and her mom went out for brunch at Eggs Up Grill in Midlothian. As they were leaving, Harris heard a commotion. A woman had passed out and was unconscious.

Harris’ mom called 911, and Harris jumped into action when she realized the woman wasn’t breathing.

“I pushed Mom aside a bit and helped the woman’s husband get her out of the booth and then I started compressions in CPR,” said Harris, who learned CPR at Manchester High School and had taken a refresh course at the daycare where she works part time. “I did two sets of compressions, and then she came back.”

Chesterfield County firefighters and emergency medical technicians arrived at the restaurant as Harris was finishing her initial treatment. All of the excitement was “a lot,” she said.

When the incident was over, “Nyla was overcome with emotions,” said Eggs Up Grill owner Robert Thompson, who wasn’t in the restaurant at the time but watched the episode on security tape.

It took Thompson a day to find out Harris’ identity.

“Nobody asked for her name,” he said, adding when he did meet Harris, he gave her free breakfast for a year. “This incident showed me that I need to have all the servers and employees CPR-certified, and we are working on that now.”

Harris, a biology major on the pre-med track in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has wanted to be a doctor since she was young. She recalls pulling out her play doctor’s kit at an early age to help her father after he suffered a shoulder injury.

“I would tell my dad that I would make him better,” Harris said. “I am really a one-track-mind person. When I want something, I am going to try my best to get there.”

Her goal is to become a pediatrician. “I have always liked kids and being around kids,” she said. “My pediatrician was a safe space, and I want to give that back to others.”

Also for as long as she can remember, VCU has been her school of choice.

“That was always the goal. My mom worked with Cardinal Health at VCU Medical Center. My dad would drop her off in the morning, and I would ride along. I was comfortable with the hospital setting,” Harris said.

At VCU, Harris is involved in Black Women in STEM and the Black Student Union. She is also a diversity ambassador with Resident Life and Housing.

“I am enjoying it a lot,” she said of VCU and the pre-med track. “There’s a lot to remember, but it’s very interesting at the same time. I like the fact that VCU is such a diverse campus, and it always has something fun to do.”

The media attention Harris received after the incident at Eggs Up Grill was “overwhelming at the time,” she said. “But I know this story will help others want to become certified in CPR.”

During the following week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin held a news conference about the Virginia budget at the restaurant and highlighted Harris in his speech.

“He asked me to stand up and he said, ‘This is what happens when we have heroes in our community,’” she said. “That was surreal.”

How does hearing someone refer to her as a hero make her feel?

“I feel like if anyone has had the training I have had, they would step up as well,” Harris said. “I don’t think hero is the word. I think it’s right place at the right time.”

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