Matt Heisler’s housemate got home in the wee hours Sunday morning and saw heavy smoke inside the home they rented near the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks.

Risking his own life, Ryan Nelson, 20, managed to pull Heisler, 21, from the house and performed CPR until his friend’s heart started beating again. But despite Nelson’s efforts, Heisler died Tuesday morning at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Both Heisler and Nelson are from Lakeville; both attended UND.

Heisler’s parents, Jared and Cheryl Heisler, issued a statement through the hospital: “This morning we had to say goodbye to our beloved son. In accordance with his wishes, his organs will be donated so that others can live. We just cannot express how much we will miss Matthew, and how the thought of going through the rest of our lives without him is beyond what we can imagine right now.

“We want to thank everyone who has prayed for Matthew and supported us during this difficult time. Please continue to pray for those who will be blessed by life-giving transplants from Matthew, and for his family and friends.”

According to a CaringBridge website set up by Heisler’s family, Heisler was home alone when the fire started. Nelson returned about 2:40 a.m., and after seeing heavy smoke through the windows, ran to the back of the house and broke Heisler’s bedroom window.

“Ryan climbed inside but when he couldn’t find Matt on his bed, he didn’t give up,” the family wrote. “Ryan climbed back out the window and went back to the front door forcing his way through heavy smoke on his hands and knees and searched for Matt until he found him. “Ryan carried Matt out of the house and when he realized there was no heartbeat, he gave Matt CPR and mouth-to-mouth until he got his heart to start beating again.”

Heisler’s heart stopped beating again once the two got to the Grand Forks hospital, and Heisler was flown to the Minneapolis hospital.

The Grand Forks Herald reported that the city’s Fire Department said the cause of the fire was “unattended cooking.” The house had extensive fire and smoke damage.

According to his Facebook page, Heisler was an avid hunter of turkey, geese and other waterfowl. He played football while attending Lakeville North High School.

Nelson could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.


Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284