From girl trapped in a well to millionaire: the remarkable Jessica McClure

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The Independent US

Once upon a time there was a toddler who no one outside her family had ever heard of. And then she fell down a hole in the ground and became for a while the most famous little girl in the world. Her name was Jessica McClure, she was 18 months old, and was trapped 22ft down in a disused well just 8 inches wide. As rescuers tried to work out a way to reach her in time, the world's television cameras swarmed to that Texas backyard.

For the next two and a half days, the pictures of what seemed a hopeless cause were beamed to a nation that was waiting, and praying, for the saving of Baby Jessica. And then, after 58 hours, they got their wish. A breakthrough underground, and, in the arc-lights that flooded that small yard in Midland, Texas, Jessica was brought to the surface. Bruised, bloodied, with as yet unknown injuries – but alive.

Today, exactly 20 years after that rescue, Jessica is married, a mother, and set to become a millionaire. Perhaps most remarkably of all, she is, according to those closest to her, mentally unscathed by her entombment and fame. Mercifully, she has no recollection of those two and a half days wedged in a dark, damp pipe; but, crucially, her parents – and now she herself – have studiously avoided publicity and, thence, the madness of minor celebrity.

Jessica, despite 15 operations, nine blood transfusions, and the loss of part of her foot, grew up protected from media attention by her young parents Chip and Cissy. She skateboarded, learnt the piano and French horn, and, on the rescue's tenth anniversary, her parents – by then divorced and by no means well off – allowed Ladies Home Journal the only interview. In it, Jessica said she was bored by talk of her "incident" and, referring to the scars she bore, said, maturely: "I'm proud of them. I have them because I survived."

She graduated from high school, then married Daniel Morales in a 2006 ceremony at which she would not allow any media. Jessica gave birth to a son, Simon, and now attends college. She will, on her 25th birthday, inherit a trust fund worth a reported $1m (£490,000).

Not all the participants in her drama have fared as well. Her parents divorced; Robert O'Donnell, one of her rescuers, committed suicide eight years later (due, his brother said, to the stress and attention); and the portrayal of people in a subsequent film of the rescue split the community so badly the local mayor had to appoint a commission to settle the squabbles. But Jessica goes on. In her only ever live TV interview, given in June, she said: "It couldn't cage me then, why should it cage me now?"

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