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 around the clock for 58 hours to successfully free the baby from the deep well. The story garnered worldwide attention and was even turned into a made-for-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.”
58 hours after the rescue began, on October 16, 1987, the paramedic freed the baby from the well. The entire nation celebrated, as well as viewers watching the remarkable rescue around the world. 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 in an interview with People. “But there’ll never be nothing like this again.”
As it turns out, O’Donnell was correct. The famous rescue was life altering not just for the baby but also for the paramedic. Although O’Donnell was happy to share his story in interviews and on talk shows, the limelight quickly faded. Once his fifteen minutes of fame were up, the paramedic had a difficult time returning to his way of life before the astounding rescue. In 1991, he divorced his wife. Then the next year, he quit the Midland Fire Department.
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.