Decades After Recovering From Polio, Senator Marks Vaccine's Anniversary

(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Mitch McConnell's first memory is of buying a pair of shoes at a Georgia shop, shortly after being told that he would be able to walk after all.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the government's approval of a vaccine for polio, McConnell took time on the Senate floor Tuesday to describe being struck by the disease when he was 2 years old.

Though he was better off than many victims of polio, which can cause severe muscle damage, paralysis and death, the Kentucky Republican said the quadriceps muscle of his left leg was affected.

With his father fighting overseas in World War II, McConnell said his family was living with relatives in Alabama. They were about 50 miles from Warm Springs, Ga., where President Franklin D. Roosevelt had established a polio treatment center.

After driving him to the center to learn how to coach his leg back to life, McConnell's mother spent the next two years working him through daily physical therapy, the senator said.

"This example of incredible discipline that she was teaching me during this period, I always felt had an impact on the rest of my life," he said.

The government approved the polio vaccine on April 12, 1955, and the last new U.S. case was reported in 1979. But health officials haven't been able to wipe out the illness worldwide, and this year launched a major vaccination effort across Africa.

McConnell said he had a normal childhood that included baseball games and other typically American pursuits. But he still has some trouble walking down stairs, a constant reminder of the disease, he said.

He also commended the work of Rotary International, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to vaccinate people worldwide.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)