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Monument Mountain, where Paula Kaplan-Reiss ’81 fell down a cliff face and suffered extreme injuries.

November 18, 2019

Ithaca College Freshman Rescues Alumna Hiker After Nearly Fatal Fall

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On Aug. 10, shortly before beginning the fall semester, Ithaca College freshman Henry Grant was hiking with his mother on Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, Massachusetts when suddenly, he heard “tumbling, a thump, and another thump.”

Paula Kaplan-Reiss ’81, another hiker on the trail, had fallen 75 feet down the side of the cliff.

Grant had been out on a walk the trails, something that he does often, when he happened upon this emergency. In an interview with The Sun, Grant recalled hearing Kaplan-Reiss’s husband, Rick Reiss, scream Paula’s name over and over. After assessing the situation, Grant decided to try to help save her.

“‘You know what? I’m going to go do it. I just want to see if I can find her. If I can’t, I can’t, but I’m going to try,” Grant, a frequent hiker, said. “I had a feeling. I know the mountain.”

Grant and his mother began their descent down the mountain until they came to a spot where he thought would be a good place to enter the woods to look for Kaplan-Reiss.

Fifteen minutes later, after climbing up a set of slippery rocks, Grant saw that Kaplan-Reiss was lying on a small ledge, just six inches away from falling another 20 feet. He could tell that she was in extreme pain.

“When I first saw her, it was like ‘oh my god, she’s alive,’ because, on the way down, I honestly expected she wouldn’t be,” Grant said.

After calling out to Kaplan-Reiss and receiving only a weak response, Grant dialed 911 and notified other hikers in the area to their location. To get closer, Grant climbed further up the steep side, digging out handholds in the dirt.

Another hiker named Simon arrived to help as well. In the approximately 30 minutes it took for rescue workers to navigate to the isolated trail spot, the two of them did their best to keep Kaplan-Reiss calm.

“I ended up grabbing her hand, trying to ask her a lot of questions… to keep her mind off the pain,” Grant said.

Doctors at Albany Medical Center, where Kaplan-Reiss was transported to after the injury, later confirmed that Kaplan-Reiss had broken ten ribs, her collarbone, tibia and fibula. On top of those injuries, she also sustained a concussion.

After Kaplan-Reiss was rescued, Grant and Simon climbed back up with the help of the harnesses and the pulleys. The whole ordeal took over five hours.

“It was a crazy day, and I’m glad I was there to be able to help,” Grant said.

Kaplan-Reiss spent 10 days in the hospital and has no recollection of any events before her fourth day.

“It was pretty bizarre to hear all this stuff that happened to me and have zero awareness, other than I couldn’t walk and was in pain,” she said.

Kaplan-Reiss studied human development and family studies in the College of Human Ecology and now works as a psychologist. Her mother had passed away a week before, she said, and she and her husband were visiting their vacation home in the area to relax.

Kaplan-Reiss is still in physical therapy but is now able to walk on her own. She is expected to make a full recovery and hopes to get back to her active lifestyle.

“I feel incredibly lucky,” she said. “I came close to death and I remember none of it.”

It was only until later that Grant and Kaplan-Reiss realized their coincidental Ithaca connection. They spoke over the phone while Kaplan-Reiss was still in the hospital. “I heard he was going to Ithaca College, and I was like, ‘there’s great hiking there,’” she joked.

“There wasn’t anything in it for him. He wasn’t a volunteer, he wasn’t a part of the rescue team, he wasn’t a part of anything. He was just a good kid,” Kaplan-Reiss said.

Grant, who studies business, was surprised by the amount of attention his actions have received. He credited the firemen and other rescuers as the real heroes.

“There were a whole bunch of guys who were all volunteers from that town who came to help. I was just the first one to find her,” Grant said.

“I’ve come to appreciate more how big of an impact good deeds have on people,” he continued.  “I didn’t realize how such a small deed, at least in my eyes, can be seen as such a big one in someone else’s.”

Kaplan-Reiss hasn’t forgotten Grant’s selfless act. “He is one of a kind. He saved my life,”  she said.