PATERSON, NJ (PIX11) — It was four days before Buffalo Bills Damar Hamlin collapsed on the football field that Pastor Anthony Palmer collapsed and suffered cardiac arrest as he was reciting vows during a wedding ceremony in Paterson, New Jersey. 

Like Hamlin, he survived because a quick-thinking off-duty EMT was in the right place at the right time to perform CPR. Valeria Franco, a 23-year-old Woodland Park EMT, said a party planner shouted for help, asking for someone to call 911.

“My mom looked at me and said ‘you are 911, so go help,'” Franco said.

And help she did, jumping into action to help Palmer.

“I don’t think I second guessed myself, I think I just went straight into work mode,” Franco said. “It’s something that I do really often when I’m working, so it just came second nature.”

Franco and her mother were helping out the caterer for the wedding at Paterson’s Art Factory before CPR training proved to be a valuable asset. She performed the procedure on the pastor for almost 30 minutes until the ambulance arrived. Franco stayed with him until they arrived at the hospital.

The grateful pastor was at Paterson’s City Hall on Tuesday as Franco was honored for her quick action that saved his life. He hugged the young woman.

“I thank you because I wouldn’t be here today, my wife would not be here today, if it weren’t for your service,” Palmer said. “I’m amazed over the whole situation, being alive by what took place.”

Franco noted that it didn’t feel real.

“Very surreal,” she said, “it’s something I do all the time.”

Palmer’s wife Lavelle blessed the woman and felt “It was ordained for her to be a part of that catering service and to be there that night.”

Terrified by her husband’s sudden collapse, she said she lived the experience all over again four nights later when Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a Bills – Bengals football game. 

“I couldn’t watch it,” she said. “It just reminded me of what we just went through. It was the most horrible experience of my life.

Paterson’s Mayor Andre Sayegh presented Franco with a plaque of appreciation.

“I’m proud to present, on behalf of the City of Paterson, to our hero, a literal life savior: Valeria Franco, thank you,” he said.

Franco’s mother Brenda beamed.

“I’m very proud and she knows it,” the mom said.

Her daughter was humbled, claiming she’s not used to being the center of attention. 

“When the mayor called me and said he wanted to honor me, I literally said ‘what me? Are you sure?’ He said ‘yeah.’ Everyone is saying thank you to me and the first thing I said was thank you back,” Franco said.

She hopes her story will inspire others to learn CPR so they know how to perform it when they least expect to need it.

As for the wedding, that was postponed after the pastor collapsed. It has been rescheduled as a private ceremony at the couple’s home, with the recovering pastor presiding.