Inside Mitch McConnell's Battle With This Scary Disease

Sometimes, Mitch McConnell can seem superhuman to many Americans, either in a good way or a bad way, depending upon which way your political beliefs lean. He spent several years as majority leader of the Senate, deciding which legislation would get a vote and which legislation would never see the light of day. He also seems to have an all-knowing look on his face at all times, making many think that he wields more power than many others in Washington. 

But, alas, he is not superhuman. He is still just one man who holds a lot of political power and, as of this writing, when he was a child, his vulnerability showed when he contracted an illness that changed his life. His experience with that illness has even made him an outlier in today's Republican party when it comes to a very important 2021 topic.

Addison Mitchel McConnell Jr. was born on Feb. 20, 1942, in Sheffield, Alabama, but a new job for his father brought the family to Kentucky later in his childhood. Kentucky became McConnell's new home state and the one he has represented in the Senate since 1985. To get where he is today, McConnell had to beat the odds at a very young age due to a disease that once terrorized children but, thanks to medical science, hasn't been seen in the United States for more than four decades (via Biography).

Mitch McConnell battled a virus in childhood

When Mitch McConnell was only 2 years old, he contracted polio, which is caused by the poliovirus. It's spread via respiratory droplets that then get into the bloodstream and attack the nervous system, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In the 1940s, the U.S. reached the height of the polio epidemic, but, by the mid-1950s, Jonas Salk announced the success of his polio vaccine trials, and mass vaccinations began (via the Centers for Disease Control). 

Unfortunately, it was too late for McConnell. He was just a toddler when he contracted polio, which appeared to only give him flu-like symptoms. He seemed to recover quickly, but his left leg was left paralyzed, and his mother was determined that her son would walk. She took him for treatment at a specialized center — where then-President Franklin Roosevelt received his own polio treatment — and, for two years, he received therapy until his mother was assured he would be able to walk without a brace. McConnell says that walking out of that center and immediately going with his mother to buy a pair of shoes is one of his first memories, according to ABC News.

Mitch McConnell explains the importance of vaccines

Having suffered through polio as a child — and knowing the virus has been eradicated in the U.S. by a successful vaccine campaign — has made Mitch McConnell one of the few Republicans in 2021 advocating for Americans to take the COVID-19 vaccine. In August 2021, he began airing an ad throughout his native Kentucky trying to encourage his constituents to get the COVID vaccine, citing his own experience with a debilitating virus as a child.

"I faced a different disease. I contracted polio," he said in the ad. "It took decades for us to develop a vaccine." He then called the COVID-19 vaccine "nothing short of a modern medical miracle." He continued (via CNN): "Every American should take advantage of this miracle and get vaccinated. It's the only way we're going to defeat COVID."

On Sept. 1, 2021, he went even further with an ad he posted on social media, saying: "As a boy I fought polio. Today, America's been polio-free for 40 years thanks to vaccination. We'll beat COVID-19 with vaccines too. Protect yourself and your family. Get vaccinated."