John Thompson was an 18-year-old high school senior from Hurdsfield when he was faced with a critical decision that no 18 year old or anyone should have to make: Should he have his arms reattached to his body?
It was in 1992 when Thompson had his arms ripped off in a farming accident. Now, almost 20 years later, his plight is scheduled to be the subject of a feature on the Biography Channel's television program "I Survived..."
The program will show how he survived the accident, which became headline news around the world.
James C. Falcon/MDN
Almost 20 years ago, John Thompson had his arms torn off in a farming accident. Thompsons’ arms were subsequently reattached. His story is planned to be the subject for the Biography Channel’s program “I Survived...”
Right now, Thompson said he is "99 percent sure they're going to do the show."
He said that he has done a phone interview with the crew in Switzerland. This crew then sent a representative from Los Angeles to do a video interview, here in Minot. The purpose of this video was to see how Thompson appeared on camera, what he looked like and how his story sounded.
Once he goes to Los Angeles while he isn't sure when exactly, he said he believes it will happen sometime in the first two weeks of March he will shoot another video, this time it will be footage for the show.
"They want to get it on the air in April, this year yet," he said. "They were rushing to get it all together."
He was the average high school senior from the Midwest. He was tall with blond hair and blue eyes and listened to Guns N' Roses the kind of guy that seemed to scream the epitome of a Midwestern teenage boy in the early 1990s.
But his life changed on Jan. 11, 1992.
Thompson was unloading grain from a truck into a grain auger on his family's farm near Hursdfield, 25 miles south of Harvey. While he was unloading the grain, his shirt got caught in the power takeoff shaft of the auger.
"It pulled me in and ripped my arms off," he said.
His left arm was pulled off between the elbow and the shoulder; his right arm, just below the shoulder.
Thompson managed to make his way to the house. With a pencil clenched in this teeth, he dialed 9-1-1. He then waited in the bathtub, so as not to get blood on the carpet.
The original plan was that he would be taken to Bismarck and treated for shock before being medivacced to Minneapolis. He was far from being in shock. On the contrary, he was "calm and relaxed," Thompson recalled.
He was taken to St. Aloisius Hospital in Harvey, where Thompson said he was born and died "I've been dead three times or I should have been."
Blood was flown to Harvey from Bismarck as he didn't have any blood left in his body.
"Medically, I shouldn't have been alive," he said.
The "O Negative" blood which had coursed through his veins was practically depleted. His veins had collapsed, which made administering an IV all the more difficult. The fact that he didn't have any arms complicated matters more; the IV was applied in his feet.
The hospital didn't have his blood type, so they started using whatever blood type they could find; as soon as they put blood into him, it would bleed right out again. When his body began to retain the blood, he was flown to Robbinsdale, Minn.
Thompson said he remembers being in the hospital in Harvey and being loaded on the plane. It was a boring flight to Minnesota, he said.
"I remember getting off the plane and it was a lot colder in Minnesota than it was here (in North Dakota)," he added.
It was at the North Memorial Medical Center, in Robbinsdale, where Thompson was faced with a critical decision: he had the choice of having his arms reattached.
"I figured I'm already here, so you might as well put them on," he said.
However, with his choice, there were risks. Having his arms reattached meant that he would have more chance of infections, a longer hospital stay, and there was the chance that, if his arms didn't respond, they would again be removed.
It was a risk, and he took it.
His arms were attached, but all was not well with the world. By this time, his arms had been unattached for eight hours. They started to decompose.
When they put his arms back on, toxins in the arms went back into his body and he received an infection. This infection gave him a 20 percent chance of living.
His left arm wasn't responding and the doctors wanted to remove it. Thompson said to keep it on.
There was no blood flow in it, but however it soon started circulating on its own the doctors didn't know how it happened.
Over the course of about 14 years, Thompson would be plagued by infections because of the operation. It has been about six years since he has had any infections.
The accident, as Thompson said, was "no big deal."
"There's no similarities between what my life was and what it is now," he said.
However, as news began to spread about his story, the 18-year-old boy from Hurdsfield, N.D., became known worldwide.
He couldn't go out in public without people staring, people talking to him, and people touching him. He began to avoid going anywhere by himself. He didn't go out in public or travel by himself without security.
"People know who I am," he said.
Even on a trip to Mexico in 2010, Thompson was recognized. It ruined his vacation, he said, as by the fifth day of his eight-day trip, the whole resort knew who he was. He said it was stressful to be approached by so many people at a time when he was relaxing on a vacation.
Thompson is still a relatively private person. He no longer requires security except when he travels.
At first, when people who had heard about his story approached him acting familiar, he said it was "really creepy at first."
"I'm used to being stared at and gawked at," he said, but he's also become accustomed to not paying attention to attention. It isn't that he's stuck up, it's just that being the object of curious stares became a common and constant occurrence.
"It's not that I'm rude. I just don't pay attention to people," he said.
Since his accident, Thompson guessed that he's been on about 20 television programs.
"Donahue was the first talk show that I did where I went somewhere," Thompson said, referring to the many local news shows that he appeared on. "I think I did that in the fall of 1992 or the following summer. I've done so many that I can't remember."
The last program that he was featured on was "Urban Legends" as part of the episode "Three Degrees of Separation," in 2009.
On the 10th anniversary of the accident, on Jan. 11, 2002, his book, "Home In One Piece" was released. The release party was held at North Memorial Medical Center, in Robbinsdale, where his reattachment surgery was held.
Coincidentally, his book is used in English classes in Switzerland.
"I don't know why," he said. "I'm a big thing in Switzerland. I'm like a celebrity over there."
In addition to touring, Thompson began to give farm safety talks. This progressed into motivational speaking.
He has been involved in government, mostly working with governors but also says "Earl, Kent and Byron" are friends of his. In 1994, Thompson worked with then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on the health care reform bill. He also took a chance at becoming a member of the government; in April 2004, he ran for a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives. He later changed his mind, as he planned on moving out of the state, but it was too late to get his name off the ballot. Despite the fact that he didn't campaign, "I almost won."
In 2009, he entered the real estate business; since 2010, he has been a Realtor.
As the 20th anniversary of his accident approaches, Thompson said that he plans to write a follow-up to his book. He said he hopes to have it released in time for the anniversary, but with an agent and a publisher to find, it won't be an easy task.