An Oconee County native, Heller was born into one of the oldest German-American families in South Carolina. Like his father he pursued a medical career and chose public service. From 1934 until 1948 he was one of the nation's foremost authorities on the control of venereal disease. He became director of the National Cancer Institute in 1948 and was appointed Assistant Surgeon General in 1957. In 1960 he was appointed president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and continued his work as a cancer researcher even following his retirement. For his extensive work in the field of public health, Dr. Heller received numerous honorary degrees and was the recipient of the American Cancer Bronze Medal in 1956 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Cancer Foundation award in 1961.