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    The Human Spirit | Spring 2004 Out Here Magazine

    When his arms were severed in a farm accident, John Thompson bravely helped himself; now he helps others

    After taking some time off, John Thompson is stepping up his public speaking on farm safety and blood donation.
    Out Here

    By Stephen Leon Alligood

    Photography by Mike McCleary

    On a winter's day in 1992, in tiny Hurdsfield, N.D. — home to about 100 hearty souls — teenager John Thompson found fame in the strangest of ways: his arms were severed in a farming accident and successfully reattached by a team of surgeons.

    A dozen years later, Thompson's arms remain functional, he has written a successful book about his ordeal, and the once-shy young man has become an in-demand public speaker on farm safety.

    "It's been an interesting ride," says Thompson, now 30 and a Minot, N.D., resident.

    Thompson was 18 on that January Saturday when he was home alone on his family's farm, unloading barley from a grain truck via a power auger. The auger, which rotates more than 600 turns per minute, was not covered by a safety shield.

    With unrelenting strength, the spinning shaft grabbed young Thompson's jacket

    when he stepped too close. The machine didn't let go until it tore both his arms from his body.

    Awakened from unconsciousness by his dog's licks to his face, John staggered more than 100 yards to the house — the length of a football field. He opened the door with his mouth, picked up a pen with his teeth, and dialed the touch-tone telephone for help. Then, despite his life-threatening injuries, the young man climbed into a bathtub so he wouldn't bleed on his mother's new carpet.

    Doctors successfully re-connected muscle and nerves during a six-hour operation, the first of more than 20 he's endured.

    Meanwhile, Thompson became an unwitting farm hero.

    He's since taken to motivational speaking, traveling the country addressing all kinds of groups. Besides farm safety, he speaks on blood donation — two subjects near and dear to him.

    "When I got to the hospital that day, I had bled out. I really didn't have enough blood in me to be alive, but for some reason I still was. There was no medical explanation for it," he says.

    "When I got to the hospital that day, I had bled out. I really didn't have enough blood in me to be alive, but for some reason I still was. There was no medical explanation for it," he says.

    A portion of the proceeds from his 2001 book, Home in One Piece, goes to a North Dakota blood services organization. So far the book, a regional bestseller co-written with Paula Crain Grosinger, has raised several thousand dollars.

    For several years, Thompson was on the road speaking two or three times a week across the country. He cut back last year, but plans to re-start this year.

    "I just had to take a break for a while," he says.

    Although the effort to re-attach Thompson's arms was successful, his use of them is limited to about 80 percent of what they once were.

    "It's something I've had to cope with, but I'm not complaining," he says. "I still do pretty much what I want to do."

    For instance, his new hobby is demolition derbies.

    "It's just fun to do. If you get mad, you go out and wreck a car," he says with a laugh. "Works for me."

    Stephen Leon Alligood lives and writes from his home near Nashville, Tenn.

     

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