Rocker John Mellencamp has personally thanked the surgeon who saved his life at birth, 40 years after learning how close he came to death.

The Jack & Diane hitmaker was born with spinal bifida at a time when little was known about the condition, but thanks to the efforts and skill of Dr. Robert Heimburger and an experimental procedure, he survived and thrived.

Mellencamp recently told CBS News he didn't know about his potentially life-saving operation until he was nine, when a school pal asked him about the scar on his back.

The rock star said, "I went home and asked my parents. They said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. You had an operation.'"

Over 50 years after the surgery, Mellencamp finally met Heimburger a few weeks ago and learned he was the only survivor of the experimental procedure.

He explains, "They did three operations. One (girl) died on the table, another girl lived, I think, 'til she was 14, and then she died. And then me. They basically cut my head off... laid it open, cut that thing off then put all the nerves into my spine."

As for the cost of the pioneering work, he adds: "He (Heimburger) charged my parents $1. I was a guinea pig."

Asked about his meeting with the man who saved his life, the rocker says, "We talked about faith, 'cause I have very little faith in anything. (He) just kept grabbing my hand and saying, 'John, you need to have faith'."