On October 14, 2022, we’ll celebrate the 35th anniversary of the astonishing rescue of Baby Jessica. Jessica McClure Morales was only 18 months old when she fell 22 feet down an abandoned well in her aunt’s back yard in Midland, Texas. Rescuers worked for 58 hours to rescue the baby from the well. The story gained worldwide attention and was made into a TV movie. Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure.
From Local Firefighter to National Hero
When the world tuned in to see the incredible event thirty years ago, they watched paramedic Robert O’Donnell rescue Baby Jessica. O’Donnell was chosen to shimmy down the small rescue shaft parallel to the well due to his small frame. However, the shaft was so small that O’Donnell entered head first and descended down the narrow tunnel on his back.
“He told me it was just agonizing down there … claustrophobia, the physical pressure on your chest,” said actor Whip Hubley, who spoke with O’Donnell after being cast to play the firefighter in the television movie. “You really felt like you were in a grave.”
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On October 16, 1987, just 58 hours had passed since the rescue began. The paramedic released the baby from the water well. The rescue was watched by millions around the world, but also by the nation. O’Donnell went from a local firefighter to a world renowned hero overnight. He was even cast as a reporter in the television movie about Baby Jessica’s rescue. However, O’Donnell could not escape the fame nor the trauma he endured from that life-changing rescue.
Forever Branded As Baby Jessica’s Rescuer
A seasoned firefighter, O’Donnell was no stranger to harrowing rescues. “I’ve saved other people’s lives before,”He shared this information with us in an interview. People. “But there’ll never be nothing like this again.”
As it turns out, O’Donnell was correct. This famous rescue saved not only the baby’s life but also the life of the paramedic. Although O’Donnell was happy to share his story in interviews and on talk shows, the limelight quickly faded. The paramedic struggled to return to his life before the amazing rescue after his fame ended for fifteen minutes. He divorced his wife in 1991. He then quit the Midland Fire Department the following year.
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Over time, being branded as Baby Jessica’s rescuer became too much for O’Donnell. On April 23, 1995, O’Donnell tragically succumbed to the trauma from the aftermath and took his life. As the 35th anniversary of the rescue quickly approaches, we remember O’Donnell for the life-changing role he played in Baby Jessica’s life, but also for all the other lives he saved as a firefighter.