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Graduate Student Saves Drowning Victim


Matt Hillman Matt Hillman took time to save a drowning victim while researching waterbirds along the North Carolina coast.

May 15, 2012 – Matt Hillman of Southborough, Mass., a wildlife science master’s student who was conducting research on Cape Lookout National Seashore, N.C., last May, became a local hero when he saved the life of a woman drowning in a rip tide. A man on the beach in poor condition from his own struggles in the rip tide informed Hillman in Spanish that there was another person in need of help. Fully aware of the risks, Hillman swam out beyond the breakers to the woman and fought the tide to get her safely to shore. “I’m a capable swimmer and feel comfortable in the surf, so I hoped I could help in some way, particularly as there are no lifeguards on the national seashore,” said Hillman.

After confirming the woman was conscious and could communicate with the other people on the beach, Hillman tended to the first victim. “Park Service rangers arrived after a few minutes and I translated in order to keep the man awake and get his information,” remarked Hillman, who remained with the team until both victims were transported to the hospital. After the incident, Hillman worked with National Park Service staff to request that additional flotation devices be placed in storage sheds and park service vehicles on the island, which would make similar efforts much less risky in the future.

“Matt exemplifies the best of the college,” said Associate Professor Sarah Karpanty, Hillman’s advisor. “Not only is he an outstanding student-scholar, he also recognizes that we do not work in a bubble. In all aspects of his life and work, it is clear that Matt prioritizes others over himself, and so it is no surprise that his instincts and skills led him to that rescue, which few others could have safely accomplished.” Karpanty and Professor Jim Fraser, also Hillman’s advisor, honored the student’s selflessness by nominating him for the U.S. Coast Guard Lifesaving Award.

    CNRE Newsmagazine Spring 2012 Cover

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