Oma Lavelle McCarty was born with a club foot, but options for correcting the birth defect were limited in Tallapoosa County in 1938. Immediately after his birth, Oma’s parents sought treatment for their little boy from a doctor in nearby Selma but after wearing a cast for the 15 months of his life, Oma’s foot showed no improvement. So his parents brought him to Birmingham where he underwent 13 operations over the next 13 years. In those days, the surgeries were performed at St. Vincent’s Hospital and the patients were then transferred to the Crippled Children’s Clinic, now Children’s Hospital, to recover. Surgeons used sheep bone to repair Oma’s foot, grafting it in place and replacing it with a larger bone as the boy grew.
It was during one of Oma’s hospitalizations in the mid-1940s that the youngster met Gene Autry. Known as The Singing Cowboy, Autry recorded many hit songs, hosted a popular weekly radio show, starred in a number of Western-style movies and served as a pilot with the U.S. Air Force during World War II. A favorite among youngsters of the era, Autry visited patients at Children’s Hospital during a stop in Birmingham that was recorded by The Birmingham News. “We had our photograph taken with him in a group. I sat on the floor between his legs,” Oma recalls. “He took some of us jeep riding.”
By age 13, Oma’s surgeries were complete. “They got it about as straight as they could get it,” he says. Today he lives in Opelika with his wife of 45 years, has two children and two grandchildren. And he’s never forgotten Children’s Hospital—and the day he met Gene Autry there.