Waitress dives off pier in an effort to save a child stuck in a rip current

Waitress recovering after diving off pier in an effort to save a child stuck in a rip current

In his play Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote that, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Much in the same vein, it has long been debated whether heroes are born or made. Are the makings of heroism always inside us, just waiting for the opportunity to come bursting out, or do we only become heroes under the right set of circumstances? It’ll probably debated for ages, but it does have some practical implications.

Most of us go about our daily lives and routines, and never encounter anything too exciting or out of the ordinary. Every so often, however, life throws us a curveball that makes us show who we really are deep inside. When the ordinary turns into the extraordinary, our true colors come to light. That was certainly the case for this Florida waitress, who saw a boy in distress in the ocean and knew immediately just what she had to do.

Just another day?

The day started ordinarily enough for 19-year-old Hanna Pignato, who works as a waitress in the popular vacation spot of Daytona Beach, Florida. It was a busy day, and it was easy to get bogged down with the many tasks a server has to carry out.

Just another day?

And yet, something caught her eye. Of the many people having some fun in the sun on the beach and in the ocean, one boy seemed to be in distress. She started the day a waitress, and ended it a hero – in the hospital.

She had the best vantage point

Joe’s Crab Shack, which is the name of her workplace, is based on the pier, which gave her an advantage. She could see a vast amount from where she was, which is probably what allowed her to notice the screaming and crying from the child’s mother. It was here that she noticed a little boy struggling in the sea, and had to make a choice.

She had the best vantage point

There were many other bystanders, after all. It was a popular beach and many people were walking along the pier at this point. In the heat of the moment, she made her decision, and that decision was to save that little boy’s life when no-one else seemed to be doing anything. Little did she know what she was getting herself into, but for Hanna, it wouldn’t matter.

There was no time to waste

She had no time to weigh up all the different outcomes of this decision, and she had no choice but to act purely on instinct. She was not trained in saving people’s lives in any way, but it didn’t stop her. While she may have spent a lot of time working on the pier, and on the beach with her friends, it’s totally different to jumping off a dangerous pier, right into a life-threatening rip-current in order to help preserve the life of a child.

There was no time to waste

She had no time to determine what she would do once she was in the water and no time to care about what would happen to her. All she could think of was one thing, jumping in the water and saving someone from drowning.

She got to the edge

Onlookers probably had no idea what was going to happen or any idea what she intended on doing. Her co-workers must have been stunned by her reaction when she stormed out of work and onto the pier. Did they even know what was going on at this point? No-one else had made the same decision.

She got to the edge

With every moment the boy was in the water, he was a step closer to losing his life, so someone had to take the plunge or he could be lost forever. Experts suggest we have a fight or flight reaction when something happens, and Hanna Pignato chose to fight for this boy’s life, so she did what no-one else would. She jumped off the edge of the pier, and into the depths of the ocean.

The fall was 20 feet

She possibly had never stopped to work out just how far she was falling, or how far she needed to go. There was also another problem with jumping into the sea from the pier that she hadn’t realized, and that was that she couldn’t see the bottom of the ocean.

The fall was 20ft

She had no time to judge the depth she was falling into, and with the velocity of her jump and the harshness of the water surface, things could have gone drastically wrong. For Hanna, her priority wasn’t her own well-being – it was making sure that the child had a future ahead of him, and that he would get to see the next day. Many people undermine the sea’s strength, but Hanna was going to fight through it.

The mother was screaming

Hanna couldn’t get the mother’s blood-curdling screams out of her head. The mother’s fear for her son was infectious, and it got people’s attention. The mother didn’t feel confident enough to jump, and she was probably too scared and stunned that it rooted her to the spot.

The mother was screaming

So, all she could do was watch as her son was trying to breathe while being dragged off, deeper and deeper, by the sea’s current. She must have been so desperate, that seeing someone try and save her son must have filled her with a small amount of hope. But things were about to get worse.

It was the pain that came before the fear

She had no idea what had hit her, but suddenly it was only pain she could feel. There was no understanding of what was going on around her, because she was focused on one thing, and one thing only. All she could feel was the agony, and it was taking over her body, but she was determined.

It was the pain that came before the fear

She was now struggling, not knowing how bad her injuries were, but her mind still did not think of herself, her instincts remained with the little boy, who didn’t have long left before it was too late.

It didn’t stop her

Despite being in immense pain, and without assessing the extent of her injuries, Hanna Pignato carried on, determined to reach the boy, and with little concern for herself. It was a struggle, even for her.

It didn’t stop her

She considered herself an experienced swimmer and surfer, someone who had spent a lot of time on the water, which was probably why she had no fear when jumping in. Her pain meant nothing to her as she neared the boy, who was still running out of time.

There was nothing she could do

Her injuries were more extensive than she imagined and she was unable to help herself, let alone help the boy. Her heroics meant everything, but now she was in need of saving.

There was nothing she could do

They were both in the ocean, unable to help themselves. One was a child, too weak to swim, and the other was Hanna, broken in places she had no idea she could break, and in too much pain to carry on. Their fates were uncertain.

Her rescue was a failure

Hanna had risked everything, only to lose everything in return. Watching as everything unfolded around her, it was all she could do to keep her head above water and hope that someone was on their way for both of them.

Her rescue was a failure

Her mind must have been everywhere, thinking about everything that had just happened, the future of that little boy, the screaming mother, and her own life. The two managed to hold on for long enough for a trained rescue team and other bystanders, who decided step in.

Help was on its way

When everything seemed lost and hopeless, they were finally saved. The little boy was given medical attention immediately and returned to his mother.

It was then that Hanna was able to focus on herself and truly realize the extent of her own injuries. When she was saved, she needed to go to the hospital immediately. She had no idea what could be wrong to be causing so much pain, but the hospital would soon determine the extent of the damage.

She had broken her back

This was not the news she was likely expecting. When you hear of stories of people who break their backs, you imagine the worst. After all, your back is integral to so many parts of your body and movement.

She had broken her back

This swimmer-surfer was probably devastated to hear this, not knowing how long her recovery would be, and what it could mean for the rest of her life. She had hit a sand bar when jumping into the water, the impact is what caused her fractures. It turns out that wasn’t all that was broken, as Hanna soon learned more about her situation.

If it wasn’t already bad enough

As if things couldn’t have been any worse, the hospital also informed her that she had broken her foot. However, in comparison to her back, this was likely of less concern to Hanna.

If it wasn’t already bad enough

With so much uncertainty ahead of her, there was one thing that people wanted to get to the bottom of. She was asked numerous times why she decided to jump in the first place, and what she was thinking when she did it. Reporters would soon get to the bottom of it.

She was thinking of the boy’s family

When she made her leap, she had been thinking of the little boy’s family, and not just the young man himself. In tears, she recounted what happened and said that she knows what it’s like to be without a family.

She just couldn’t bear the thought of a mother losing her child. This was heartbreaking for people to hear, that such a quick decision was based on a difficult past for the young woman. However, Hanna needed to know if the boy was alright.

He had swallowed a lot of water

It soon came out that the young boy had swallowed a lot of water, which could have been fatal, but thankfully people reached him in time to save him from drowning.

He had swallowed a lot of water

This news was a relief, as that was all anyone wanted – to save that little boy’s life. With that in mind, Hanna could now focus on her own health and recovery and had to face the reality of what was to come. However, she knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.

How it happened

People couldn’t help but ask what had happened. This story had suddenly made the local news and more than one life had been put at risk. So, they needed to get to the bottom of what happened even just to prevent it from ever happening again.

How did it happen

The little boy had somehow been separated from a boogie board he had been using, which was how he found himself in such a life-endangering position. This sort of thing is easy to do if you’re unaware of the currents, which means people need to be very careful when swimming in the seas.

Would Hanna recover?

Thankfully, Hanna is being watched and cared for in a hospital, but she still faces a long recovery. She explains that she thought she was ‘done’ when she hit the ocean floor, which shattered her back.

Would Hanna recover?

Hanna believes that she misjudged the depth of the tide because the waves were choppy. This has filled her with sadness and regret because she feels like a failure and a victim. Unfortunately for Hanna, this is not the end of her troubles.

She has no health insurance

Hanna could never have foreseen the circumstances she now found herself in. Her brief and sudden act of bravery landed her with some pretty hefty medical bills she needed to pay, and her treatment wasn’t even over.

She has no health insurance

As a waitress, Hanna likely chose not to pay for medical insurance as a way to save money, or she might not have been able to afford it in the first place. Either way, she now faced the reality of having to find the money to pay for her care. And she had no idea it was going to cost this much.

The bills are $75,000

This is the last thing that Hanna needed to be worrying about after her ordeal. She needed to be focusing on her recovery, making sure she follows the doctor’s orders and healing as quickly as possible.

The bills are $75,000

Of course, this probably took to the back burner when Hanna finally learned how much she now needed to pay as a result, and that had to become her priority because, being a waitress, it was hardly an amount she just had laying around.

A ‘Go Fund Me’ was set up

Hanna has recently had a GoFundMe page set up to help others hear her story and chip in with her hospital bills. It’s totally based on people’s generosity, but for now, she still has to find thousands of dollars to pay for her treatment.

A ‘Go Fund Me’ was set up

While several thousand dollars have been raised, thanks to kind well-wishers, $75,000 is an incredible amount to try and raise, even with multiple strangers’ help. She’ll need a lot of support to get the word out about it.

She will have to miss work

It all turned out to be a catch 22 for Hanna. On the one hand, she needed money to pay off her medical bills. On the other, she was too out of commission to go back to work and earn that money while her back and foot were broken.

She will have to miss work

She also lives in a third-story apartment, which is going to make it almost impossible for her to return home until she is able to get up and down steps with little to no help. At the moment, Hanna remains in the hospital, awaiting surgery.

What next?

Hanna has no choice but to find the money to pay for her treatment, although she has raised a lot of money in a short space of time, so there could still be hope. She remains in hospital to have surgery which will help her foot and allow her to start her recovery as a whole.

Until then, she needs to sit tight with her fingers crossed, and hope that everything turns out well. On the bright side, both the young boy and herself are alive and (mostly) well, with Hanna lauded as a hero for her actions.

Not your average millennial

The story of Hanna’s selflessness and sacrifice would be amazing even if she was in her forties, but it’s made all the more heartwarming considering she’s only 19 years old. We often hear about disaffected millennials who don’t seem to care about anything – or anyone.

It’s therefore such a breath of fresh air to hear how this particular millennial saw another human being in trouble, and instead of snapping a selfie with him in the background she jumped right into the water to try and save his life.

Not willing to turn a blind eye

It would have been all too easy to carry on with her shift. After all, she was on the beach working, not leisurely soaking in the sun’s rays. How easy would it have been to just shrug and say, “Eh, let someone else get him”?

But Hanna simply couldn’t. She imagined her little sister being in the water, and hoped someone would do the same to save her. So she jumped. “That’s a human life,” she stressed. “You can’t just look at that and walk away.”

Hanna’s own mom’s story

It later turned out that Hanna’s own mom, Heather, was very close to the action without initially realizing it. As she lives right by the beach, she was drawn there by the sound of sirens, not realizing they were partly for her daughter.

She texted Hanna to ask what happened, but received no reply. Then, a co-worker called her to break the news, and she broke off running. In spite of her daughter’s injuries, she couldn’t have been prouder. When Hanna asked her not to be mad, she replied, “Hanna, you tried to save someone.”

Don’t try this at home

Learning about Hanna’s story touched the hearts of thousands of people… but local authorities in Daytona Beach were less than impressed. Ocean Rescue Captain Tammy Malphurs spoke to the media later and related the day’s events from their perspective.

When she concluded, she noted that while they believed Hanna’s “heart was in the right place,” they never encourage people to try and rescue people drowning themselves. Instead, Malphurs advised to just call 9-1-1, and leave the heroism to the professionals.

No regrets

When it was all said and done, Hanna had broken her leg and back, and was facing mounting medical bills. On top of that, she didn’t even get to save the drowning boy because her injuries incapcitated her, and she ended up needing saving too.

So… Was it worth it? To hear Hanna tell it, the answer was an unequivocal yes. Speaking from her hospital bed, she said she was actually lucky, as her injuries could’ve been far more severe. And still, in spite of it all, she had no regrets.