In October 1987, the world was transfixed by the story of Baby Jessica McClure, the 18-month old toddler who fell 22 feet in to a small well in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Texas.
It took 58 hours — with no food or water — before she was finally brought back to the surface, amid cheers from rescuers and CNN viewers across the country. Baby Jessica became a household name, even appearing on the cover of PEOPLE.
Monday marks the 30-year anniversary of the rescue. Jessica McClure Morales still lives in the Midland area, working as a special-education teacher’s aide in an elementary school. She’s married to her husband, Danny, who works as a foreman in a pipe supply company. The couple has two children, Simon, 10 and Sheyenne, 8.
She has few visible signs of the ordeal three decades ago, during which she went without food or water. But her right foot, which is noticeably smaller than her left, had to be reconstructed because it became gangrenous after it was above her head during the entire episode. A scar on her forehead, sustained when she fell asleep in the well as drilling commenced, is barely visible.
Morales never wanted to be defined by her instant fame as a toddler.
“There were a few times I was picked on specifically for being ‘Baby Jessica,’ ” she told PEOPLE in March. “I had a kid that called me ‘well-dweller’ for a good couple of years.”
“Kids are blunt – they say what’s on their minds,” she continues. “Especially when everybody in the world is like, ‘Oh, Baby Jessica’s got money,’ and I wore hand-me-downs.” (Although she did receive donations from well-wishers after her ordeal, they were saved in a trust until she was 25.)
Of the bullying, Morales says, “That part of my life made me the kind of mom that I am: to express to my kids that it’s not right. My kids have good hearts.”
These days, a typical weekend at the Morales home is all about family: Husband Danny, 43, might be tinkering in his man-cave out back, while the kids play in the treehouse he built for them.
As for Jessica, she says she sometimes reflects on her life and the accident that could have ended it so early.
Looking around at her home and happy family, she says, “Had I not survived, none of this would have been.”