A Winnipeg man who pulled over in rush hour traffic to help an Indigenous man having a heart attack on a downtown sidewalk believes racism kept others from helping.

"As a Caucasian man, if I'm having a heart attack on the street, I'm pretty confident that somebody's going to come out and help me — that many people are going to come out to help me and ask me if I'm OK," said David Jacks, who helped a man having a heart attack on Smith Street near Portage Avenue on Monday.

"It's because he's an Aboriginal man, lying on the street downtown … Winnipeggers have become so desensitized to their own racism."

Jacks was driving home from work along Smith towards Portage just before 5 p.m. when he saw a man lying on the sidewalk with a woman kneeling beside him.

It was raining and traffic was crawling at a snail's place. Jacks said he hesitated before he pulled over and turned on his hazard lights.

When Jacks got out to check on the man, a couple of other drivers honked at him for blocking the curb lane with his vehicle.

He asked the couple if everything was OK, but it clearly wasn't.

David Jacks

David Jacks says he knows what racism feels like after he tried to help an Indigenous man having a heart attack and no one else stopped. (Courtesy David Jacks)

"[He] was on the ground shaking, and his head was hitting the concrete," Jacks said about the man, who appeared to be in his 40s. "He was clutching his chest and his arm was shaking."

Another man stood nearby calling for an ambulance while Jacks, who has no first aid training, tried to protect the man's head.

"I rushed over there and stuck my hand and my leg sort of under his head," he said.

Jacks asked the man, who the woman said was named Saul, where it hurt.

"My heart," the man said.

The woman told Jacks that Saul had had a heart attack the day before and pointed to his wrist, which still wore a hospital bracelet.

Saul started to slip in and out of consciousness as the skies opened and rain poured down.

"[It was] really scary and I thought he was going to die," Jacks said.

A young man came over from the Regis Hotel with a jacket to cover Saul, but no one else in the long line of slow-moving traffic offered any help to the small group, in plain sight on the sidewalk.

"You're sitting there trying to essentially keep a man alive, and I needed help," said Jacks. "It felt frustrating and helpless."

Help arrives

After about 10 minutes, paramedics arrived and took over. A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said Saul was taken to hospital in stable condition.

Jacks got back in his car, soaking wet and emotionally drained, and thought about what had happened. He later wrote a Facebook post about the experience, describing what happened and his deep frustration with those who ignored them.

He gets that it was raining and people probably wanted to just get home, but so did he, and he still stopped.

"A man is having a heart attack. If there's anything to get involved with, it's that," he said.

Jacks has received dozens of messages from strangers thanking him for his Facebook post and for what he did.

He hopes it will encourage others to take action when someone needs help, not just turn their heads.

"Governments are apologizing and the rest of us are driving by," said Jacks. "Truth and reconciliation, residential schools — everybody's talking about this, but how that translates to how we behave as individuals and how we treat each other, I'm not sure that translation is happening.

"You can deny that there's racism all you want but the fact is, people are driving by it every day, literally. You can't just be a bystander."

With files from Erin Brohman