"Troubled Man" is the lead single of Mellencamp's latest album. His troubles started right at birth.
But for most of his 63 years, the singer knew little about the surgery he had
as a newborn.
"I didn't even know I had the operation until some kid, I was about 9 or 10, said 'What's that big scar on the back of your neck?'" Mellencamp said. "And I went home and asked my parents. They said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. You had an operation when you were born.'"
Last fall at the Riley Hospital, Mellencamp finally met 97-year-old Dr. Robert Heimburger, the neurosurgeon who performed the life-saving operation in 1951.
"He remembered it 'cause I was the first one they'd ever done," Mellencamp said.
Spina bifida is a birth defect that causes an opening of the spinal column that can sometimes allow the spinal cord to grow or extend outside of the body. The hospital still has the records of Mellencamp's surgery, including an image of him at 9 days old. /p>
"I'm 62 years old now," Mellencamp said. "I just for the first time saw the growth in the back of my neck. And it was just like 'Why didn't you guys show this to me earlier? 'Cause I woulda seen how lucky I am to even be here.'"
Mellencamp said seeing it for the first time was like "finding out that your parents weren't your parents."
"I mean it was really an epiphany moment for me," Mellencamp said. "And you just couldn't thank the guy enough."
In 1951, Mellencamp was one of three babies at Riley with spina bifida.
"They did three operations," Mellencamp said. "One died on the table. Another girl lived I think 'til she was 14, and then she died -- and then me. So they basically cut my head ... laid it open, cut that thing off and then put all the nerves into my spine."
Heimburger's highly risky procedure took 18 hours.
"He charged my parents a dollar ... because I was a guinea pig," Mellencamp said.
Mellencamp said it changes the way he sees himself.
The singer remembered walking down a New York street in the 1980s, the height of his success, when he was stopped by an older woman.
"And she said, 'Do you know how many angels you have around you?'" Mellencamp said. "And I went, 'What?' She goes, 'You are covered with protection.' Now looking back on her saying that, seeing what I've seen, maybe I believe it."
Mellencamp and the doctor who saved him 63 years ago sat together for about an hour last fall.
"And basically we talked about faith 'cause I have very little faith in anything," Mellencamp said. "He just kept grabbing my hand and saying 'John, you need to find faith.' I'm trying to take his advice to heart, tryin' to find faith in something."