Carnegie heroes appear on CBS’ 60 Minutes

60 Minutes segment
Hero Fund President Eric Zahren, right, shows 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley some historical Hero Fund documents and artifacts.

The Hero Fund saw increased interest in the Carnegie Medal and its heroes in the months after CBS’ news magazine 60 Minutes aired a segment about Carnegie heroes in Fall 2021.

The piece, reported by correspondent Scott Pelley, focused on three awardees: Terryann E. Thomas, Peter F. Pontzer, and David Michael McCartney, as well as neuroscience research headed by Dr. Abigail Marsh about altruism and heroism.

60 Minutes staff conducted preliminary interviews with at least 200 Carnegie heroes before settling on their three subjects.

Thomas was awarded the Medal after rescuing a Topeka, Kansas, police officer, in 2015.

“I remember thinking just almost instantly, ‘I am not gonna let  somebody die,’” Thomas told Pelley.

Pontzer told Pelley he “just reacted” on a North Carolina Beach in 2015 when someone pointed to a boy struggling in a rip current.

“It’s kind of like if you put your hand on a hot stove and pull it back right away without thinking. That’s kind of what it was like for me. It just needed to be done and I did it,” Pontzer said in the segment.

It was the same for McCartney, who pulled a woman from a burning vehicle in 2006 in Indiana. A minute after removing the driver, the car exploded.

The work of Dr. Abigail Marsh, a neuroscientist, was also featured on the show. At Georgetown University, she has published studies on the brains of two kinds of people— psychopaths who have no compassion for others and people who have so much compassion that they donated a kidney to a stranger.

“People who are psychopathic show very minimal responses in the amygdala when they see a frightened face,” Marsh said. “People who have given kidneys to strangers have an exaggerated response in the amygdala, which we think means that they are more sensitive than most people to others’ distress, better at interpreting when other people are in distress. More likely to pick up on it. “

60 Minutes asked Marsh to scan the brains of their hero-subjects.

“I was really pleased and gratified by what we found in the rescuers,” Marsh said. “Which is that, just like the altruistic kidney donors, their amygdalas were larger than average and significantly more responsive to the sight of somebody else in distress”

Although that episode is now archived by CBS, Paramount+ users can stream it online.