MIDLAND, Tex. — He interrupted his pre-dawn sleep to fly here Sunday morning, and Vice President George Bush said he was stirred by a special hometown link in the rescue of young Jessica McClure from an abandoned well.
"My children used to play here in the streets of Midland. So when Barbara and I heard what was happening we took it personally, as if it were happening to one of our own," he explained.
But Bush said he recognized he was not alone in feeling he was part of the drama here.
"I realized that's how everyone in the country felt about it," he added. He looked in on the sleeping Jessica and spent 15 minutes visiting with her parents, Chip and Reba McClure.
Eighteen-month-old Jessica spent 58 hours in the narrow shaft before being rescued Friday night. She remained in serious but stable condition Sunday. She continued to improve, was no longer dehydrated and her right foot had regained a healthier pink color, Midland Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Laurie Johnson said.
The foot had reduced blood circulation because of the way Jessica was positioned in the well. Doctors said they still couldn't say for sure if they would be able to save the foot from gangrene, which could force them to amputate. More surgery on her foot was planned for today.
"We will see if the foot is still viable . . . and see what kind of progress we're making," Dr. Shelton Viney said Sunday, adding that he was more optimistic about saving the foot than he was Saturday.
In addition to the vice president's visit, Jessica's parents received a call from the President and Nancy Reagan, telling the McClures to give their daughter "a big kiss."
The Reagans called the McClures from Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Washington, where the First Lady is recuperating from cancer surgery.
Bush left Newport Beach at 4:30 a.m. in order to squeeze in an unscheduled stop at Midland during the final day of a weeklong swing across America.
From 1950 to 1959, before his political days, Bush was in the oil equipment business in Midland, and one of his five children continued to call it home until just this year.
"So now Jessica McClure knows what kind of neighbors she has in Midland and in Texas," Bush said.
"And she should know this: The story isn't only what they did for her but what she did for us. For everyone held their children a little bit closer the past few nights."
Despite the profuse publicity benefits associated with his VIP visit, Bush seemed to accomplish the stop without generating cynicism among local residents.
"I'll tell you, it's totally genuine. he is a family man--this is the kind of thing that would appeal to his heart," said Fran Hillin, who served with Bush on the board of directors of the Midland YMCA in 1953.