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They were halfway across the road, holding hands as they always did on their way to meet the school bus, when 9-year-old Anaiah Tucker and her 5-year-old sister, Camry, saw the truck bearing down on them. There wasn’t time for both of them to escape. And so, in an act of sisterly love and selfless courage, Anaiah pushed her little sister to safety and took the full impact herself.
She had just one thought, she said Wednesday; her little sister “was too young to be hit like this, and if she got hit she wouldn’t hardly be alive. She would be probably gone forever.”
Yet that brave big sister, who lost a leg and nearly her life that day, does not believe that she is a hero. “I feel like one, but I really didn’t deserve to be one,” Anaiah told Ann Curry on TODAY. “I love her so much.”
‘She wasn’t breathing’
“It happened so fast, and when it happened I thought my world was just going to ... crash,” the girls’ mother, Andrea Taylor, told Curry in a live interview from Madison, Ga.
As she did every day, Taylor was watching her children cross the road to catch the school bus from their suburban Atlanta neighborhood, when to her horror she saw the accident unfold. Because of Anaiah’s quick action, Camry was safe. But Anaiah herself was near death as her mother raced to her side.
“When I got to her, she wasn’t breathing,” Taylor said. “She didn’t have a pulse or anything, so I was screaming, calling for help and asking anybody just to call the ambulance.”
Within moments, the school bus arrived and the driver began performing CPR on the stricken girl. “I instructed her mom to hold her head while I gave mouth-to-mouth, chest compressions,” driver Loretta Berryman told NBC News in a prerecorded segment. “As she took a breath, my first thing was, ‘Thank God.’ ”
Anaiah spent the next three weeks in the hospital, and still faces a long and arduous recovery. She suffered a broken neck and a damaged spleen; she lost a kidney and broke both of her legs so badly that the left one could not be saved. She was wearing a cervical collar as she appeared on TODAY with her mother and sister.
A hero’s homecoming
As Anaiah lay in the hospital, word of her courageous act spread. And when she finally came home, it was to a hero’s welcome: Neighbors lined the streets to cheer her. Smiling shyly, 5-year-old Camry summed up the feelings of all of those admirers in a few simple words: “I think she saved my life,” she told Curry.
In the days since the accident, that support has been unflagging, Taylor said, and it has included efforts to help the unemployed mother meet the ever-mounting medical bills for her daughter’s treatment. “Our community has been wonderful. They’ve been very supportive since day one of the accident,” she said.
Even now, as Anaiah begins the long road to rehabilitation from an array of injuries that will forever change her life, she has no second thoughts about risking her own life to save the life of her beloved sibling. “She’s like my friend,” Anaiah said.
And that, said her mother, shows that for all of the terrible injuries she suffered, the most important part of Anaiah came through the accident unscathed.
“Anaiah has a really, really big heart,” Andrea Taylor said. “She would have done it for someone else. But for her sister, she loved her so much she just couldn’t imagine life without her.
“And for that, I will forever be grateful to her.”