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Nursing Student Helps Save a Four-Legged Hero

Reporting for duty on Oct. 15, 2013, Newport EMT and Colby-Sawyer Nursing student Michelle Upham '15 was prepared for a routine night on the job. She had no way of knowing she was about to be woven into a family's remarkable story—one that had already captured the attention of national audiences.

That night, the Newport Fire Department was called for a structural fire with a victim trapped inside. Upham and her partner were summoned to the scene. “We arrived and the fireman said they had to get “him” out. I thought that a person was being pulled from the building. It turned out that it was a dog,” said Upham. As she worked diligently with her partner on the scene, she realized it wasn't just any dog, it was Hero.

Hero's special story began in 2009 when she was rescued in Afghanistan by Army Specialist Justin Rollins. On what would turn out to be the last night of his life, Rollins found a litter of puppies and was photographed with one with which he developed a special bond. The next day Rollins was killed by a roadside bomb.

When news reached the family of their son's death and the puppy that had been with him on his final night, they knew they needed the dog in their lives. That dog was the last life their beloved son had saved. To honor the solider and his family, the Army tracked down the pup and sent her to New Hampshire. The family developed a strong connection with the dog they named Hero and cherished her as if she were an extension of their fallen soldier.

Hero's story gained national attention two years ago when the ABC News program “20/20” visited the Rollins' home to report on the family, their son and their beloved Hero. During taping, the show's producer captured Hero just as a dramatic ray of light shown down on her and characterized it as “an unforgettable moment.” “We all laughed together and wondered if perhaps this had been a sign from Justin,” said the show's producer. The photo went viral and Hero gained national fame.

When the house fire broke out late in the evening at the Rollins' home, Hero was in trouble. Trapped in the burning home, first responders bravely rescued Hero, and Upham and her partner delivered her to the emergency veterinarian. Once again, Hero was saved.

Upham has been exposed to the medical field her whole life and was well prepared for that night's call. With her father, an EMT fire chief, and two older siblings also in the field, Upham knew she wanted to pursue a similar career path. Studying nursing at Colby-Sawyer gives Upton the opportunity to pursue her career and her other passions—soccer and lacrosse. “As much as I love Emergency Medical Service, I knew I wanted to go further with my education and that is why I am in nursing school,” said Upham.

Balancing school and sports, Upham finds her work as an EMT is a way to apply her studies to real-life experiences. Upham affects the lives of others positively with every shift, and Hero the dog was no exception.

“We all did it as a team. The firemen, policemen and all the towns responding worked fast and safely. It was a job well done by all, and I am proud to work with these people,” said Upham.

A week following the tragic fire that severely damaged their home, the Rollins family stopped by the station to meet and take pictures with the team of responders who saved what was most precious inside their home that evening. Though Upham was not there to talk with the family, she hopes to connect with them in the future.

Upham's contribution to that evening, along with the entire group of first responders, ensured the Rollins' furry friend, Hero, would be a continued source of comfort and companionship for a family with an irreplaceable loss.

–Jillienne Marinelli '14

Jillienne Marinelli is a Media Studies major at Colby-Sawyer College and an intern for College Communications.

Colby-Sawyer College is a comprehensive college that integrates the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation. Founded in 1837, Colby-Sawyer is located in the scenic Lake Sunapee Region of central New Hampshire.

Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257 (603) 526-3000