John Mellencamp meets doctor who saved his life in 1951

After more than 60 years, John Mellencamp sat down with the doctor who saved the singer's life when he was just days old.

"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?' and I went home and asked my parents," Mellencamp said in an interview with CBS News. "They said, 'oh, don't worry about it. You had an operation."

The operation, it turns out, was a pioneering procedure to correct a spina bifida birth defect -- an opening at the top of the spinal column.

So, last month, Mellencamp finally met Dr. Robert Heimburger, 97, the neurosurgeon who performed the live-saving operation in 1951.

"He remembered it 'cause it was the first one they'd ever done," Mellencamp told CBS.

Mellencamp said he and Heimburger sat together for about an hour last month.


"Basically we talked about faith, 'cause I have very little faith in anything," Mellencamp said, adding that the doctor "just kept grabbing my hand and saying 'John, you need to have faith.'"

He said he's trying to take his advice to heart.

"Trying to find faith in something," Mellencamp said.

The rocker recalled that for most of his life, he knew little of the surgery he had when he was just 9 days old.

When he saw the images of the growth on his neck for the first time, Mellencamp said it was like "finding out your parents weren't your parents."

"I mean it was really an epiphany moment for me," Mellencamp said in the interview with CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason. "I couldn't thank the guy enough."

Mellencamp was one of three babies at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis in 1951

"They did three operations," Mellencamp told Mason. "One died on the table. Another girl lived, I think, till she was 14, and then she died. And then me."

In describing the procedure, Mellencamp said: "They basically cut my head off from here to here, laid it open, cut that thing off then put all the nerves into my spine."

"He [Heimburger] charged my parents $1," Mellencamp said. "I was a guinea pig."