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Former NFL running back Peyton Hillis recounts ‘scariest point’ saving his son and niece from rip current

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(NEW YORK) — Former NFL running back Peyton Hillis, who saved his son and niece from a rip current while swimming at a Florida beach earlier this year, says “it is 100% a miracle” no one died in the incident.

“It is 100% a miracle that somebody didn’t die,” Hillis told ABC News’ Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan in an exclusive interview, his first since the January accident off the coast of Pensacola.

On Jan. 4, Hillis, a father of three, was at the beach with his family when his niece and his son began drowning. Hillis quickly jumped into action, saving first his niece and then his son.

Hillis recounted the “scariest point” of the incident while speaking to Strahan, recalling his decision to rescue his 8-year-old niece Camille ahead of his 9-year-old son Orry.

“I think the scariest point … was when I’m swimming to my son and I have to pass by him because my niece is in more danger,” Hillis said. “I knew that I had to pass him up to get to Camille first. Because, you know, if I didn’t then there’s no way she would’ve made it.”

He added, “And so what happened … I swam past my son, and I got to Camille, and she starts freakin’ out, you know, ‘We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die."”

The 37-year-old eventually made it back to shore with his son as well, but fell unconscious and began to experience lung and kidney failure. Emergency services arrived shortly after that, and Hillis was airlifted to Pensacola’s Baptist Hospital, where he was sedated and placed on a ventilator.

After about 10 days, Hillis regained consciousness and spent two weeks recovering in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Over the course of his seven seasons in the NFL, Hillis played for the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, before retiring in 2015.

Tune into Good Morning America Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. ET to watch the exclusive interview.

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