John Fisher’s first memory is of going to Colbert County Hospital when he was just two years old. It was 1930. His mother was making an extraordinary effort to seek help for John’s talipes condition.
Commonly known as club foot, this congenital deformity causes twisting of the ankles, heels, toes and feet. John’s mother knew he would likely not be able to walk without medical intervention. The Colbert County staff told her that help was available at Children’s Hospital, in Birmingham.
For this rural family, Birmingham might as well have been Chicago. Transportation was scarce and expensive.
That’s why Children’s sent a volunteer to pick John up. His next memory is of a few weeks later, leaving his home with the volunteer/stranger amid a thunderstorm, and how the hand-cranked windshield wipers were no match for the downpour.
John and the volunteer were forced to seek shelter with a Decatur family overnight – quite an adventure for such a tiny boy who had never travelled before. When they arrived at the hospital the next day John joined other children in a ward. Out the window he could watch dump trucks working, a sight that would occupy him for hours during the long three months he was separated from his family.
John remembers all the kind strangers, including a Dr. Sherrill, who was most likely John’s surgeon. He remembers being lifted onto the operating table and the resulting cast on his left foot. He remembers the nurses allowing a small bulldog into the ward that would fetch a ball, and how a passing nurse would occasionally hand John the ball so he could throw it.
He remembers crying to go home when his older brother and his wife briefly visited and brought two toys. He remembers finally going home and learning to walk, wearing out the cast. Finally, he remembers a second visit to Children’s about six months later, when these no-longer-strangers began working to repair his right foot.
John needed a third trip to Children’s, and isn’t sure why his father didn’t allow his return for the complete right-foot repair. He suspects the distance and effort were just too much. But he’s grateful that the help of strangers 79 years ago gave him a normal left foot that allowed him to begin supporting himself at age 16. From that age he pursued a nearly 60-year career in diverse industries, stretching from Alabama to Illinois.
This retired Florence Park and Recreation maintenance supervisor now lives in Florence, Alabama with his wife, Gertrude. He has not only persevered all his life by walking on the side of his right foot, but in recent years has also battled cancer and now has a pace maker. None of those barriers keep John from going to church, visiting with his regular coffee buddies at Jack’s, and generally enjoying life.
John, now 81, is proud to be a Child of Children’s. He knows he’s one of the thousands whose lives have been changed by the kindness of strangers – individuals who worked in the hospital, those who volunteered and those who sacrificially donated funds so patients could not only grow up, but learn to walk, work and support families of their own.
“I’ve had a good life,” John says. “I think there are some good people in this world, and a lot of people could be helped like they helped me. I have been blessed.”