SAN FRANCISCO — Summer Serafin, a versatile actress, longtime survivor of Type 1 diabetes and Davis High School graduate, died March 18 at San Francisco General Hospital after a 10-day struggle for survival after an accidental fall from a fire escape. She was 31.
Serafin, who was appearing in a leading role in “On the Waterfront” at San Jose Stage Co., was rehearsing for another play at home March 8 when she fell from the fire escape outside the third-floor Inner Sunset District apartment she shared with her husband, British actor Rowan Brooks.
“It was a muggy night,” Brooks said, and she had stepped onto the fire escape “for a breath of fresh air.”
Brooks, who was present at the time with another actor, said they often did that when it was hot in the apartment. The fire escape has a low railing, and Serafin apparently lost her balance and fell. Brooks was the first person to reach her after what he estimates was a 35-foot fall.
Serafin was taken to S.F. General, where she remained in a coma. The cause of death was traumatic brain injury.
“Summer was such a luminescent, fierce, passionate actress and human being,” said Carey Perloff, artistic director for the American Conservatory Theater, who directed her in Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 2008.
“She was one of the shining lights of our Young Conservatory for many years,” Perloff added. “All of us at ACT are heartbroken about losing her.”
Born in Sacramento, Serafin began performing at an early age. Besides ACT’s Young Conservatory, she trained with Sacramento Ballet and studied voice at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 5 and “fought the disease her whole life,” said her father, Mike Serafin, an anesthesiologist.
After graduating from Davis High, Serafin became the first American admitted to the Oxford School of Drama three-year program, where she met her husband and performed at theaters in London. They returned to the United States after graduation and performed in New York, Vermont and Washington state before moving to San Francisco four years ago.
At the time, Serafin’s health had suffered another setback. With her kidneys failing, she had a double organ transplant at the University of Minnesota, receiving a kidney from her brother, Ryan Serafin of Portland, Ore., and a pancreas from another donor.
The transplant rejuvenated her, her father said. Five weeks after the operation, she and Brooks opened in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” receiving rave reviews.
Serafin’s career began to take off. She appeared in several independent films and attracted critical praise in Edna O’Brien’s “Tir na nÓg” at Magic Theatre, “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and at Marin Theatre Co., Carmel’s Pacific Repertory and Brava Theater.
In addition to her husband, Serafin is survived by her parents, Mike and Linda Serafin of Davis, and brother, Ryan.
The family will hold a private ceremony this weekend in Davis, where she will be buried next to her other brother, Jesse, who died five years ago of heart failure. Brooks and colleagues in the theater community are planning a public celebration of her life, perhaps in April.
By Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic