The Final Sacrifice of a Gallant Nurse
updated 05/08/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/08/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Her family back home in Fort Smith, Ark., weren't surprised when they learned what she'd done. "She always had time for people; she was very compassionate," says her mother, Doris Needham. Adds her brother Bob Need-ham Jr.: "All Bee would have to do is see one little baby carried out, and she would be off and running."
Tragically this time, Anderson never got her chance to help. Shortly after her husband, a delivery-truck driver, dropped her off at the bombing scene, she was apparently hit on the back of the head by a piece of falling debris. Although she initially declined medical attention—"She kept insisting she had to get back and help the wounded," says rescue worker Glenn Sheppard—she collapsed minutes later and was rushed to the hospital herself. Once there, she managed to give officials her husband's pager number—Fred was setting up a snack wagon for rescue workers at the scene—and awakened briefly when he arrived at her bedside. But she was never able to answer his questions. "I said, 'Baby, what happened?' " he recalled later. "She said, 'I don't remember.' "
Initially doctors wrere optimistic that Anderson would recover. Later that day they performed surgery to remove a blood clot from her brain, and family members—including Anderson's four children, Gabriel, 17, Hilary, 15, Rachel, 12, and Britton, 10, from two previous marriages—rejoiced when she answered commands to wiggle her fingers and toes. But after that first day, Anderson never regained consciousness, and four days later she died from massive swelling in her brain. "Rebecca was fighting so hard to stay alive," said Fred, who met her through friends and married her last July. "With all the trauma she had suffered, she surprised people she lasted so long. I said a word of prayer and said, 'God, go and take her. It's okay.' I said to Rebecca, 'Quit fighting now. You can go now' "
Even in death, Rebecca managed one last generous act. On April 23 her heart was transplanted into 55-year-old William Wilcoxson, a Duncan, Okla., casino worker, who is now recovering. Says Rebecca's brother Hank Needham: "My sister died a hero."