John gets on the road to recovery | Ascension

John gets on the road to recovery


It was nearly 40 years ago when John Rhea, 71, suffered two severe motorcycle accidents. One of them causing the vertebrae in his back to compress into his shoulder blades, and another accident leading him to break his back. Shortly after those incidents, John underwent surgery and was relieved from pain for nearly 35 years. But, in August 2021, that pain started sneaking back up.

“The top of my legs were going numb, and my knee caps were aching,” John recalls. “Then it dawned on me that this could be my back issues resurfacing.” John scheduled an appointment with his primary care doctor, who referred him to see Dr. Adam Reig, neurosurgeon at Howell Allen Clinic in Nashville, to get an MRI.

The MRI confirmed that John had a ruptured disc, which refers to a problem with a rubbery disc between the spinal bones. He was then in for surgery to help clean up the area and alleviate his pain. John was feeling good until spring 2022. “My back started to hurt again,” said John. “In July, I made an appointment to see Dr. Reig and update him on my symptoms.”

John underwent an updated MRI and unfortunately he was found to have a large recurrent disc herniation at the level previously fixed. They scheduled him to undergo redo discectomy and spinal fusion in August.The goal of this type of procedure is to eliminate motion between vertebrae. It also prevents the stretching of nerves and surrounding ligaments and muscles.

“The minute I woke up, I knew everything was fixed,” said John. “My whole encounter with Ascension Saint Thomas was incredible. From the MRIs, to getting ready for surgery, to spending recovery time in the hospital, it was the nicest experience I have ever had at a facility.” A few days later, after his discharge, John received a letter from his team of doctors and nurses. “I cried like a baby,” said John. “I’ve always loved this facility because of their beliefs, but I appreciate it even more now.”

John has owned two motorcycle companies for 42 years. It's been a hobby for him since he can remember, and he is a part of a team that participates in hundreds of races a year. “My team is gearing up for The Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals,” said John. It’s the world's biggest and longest drag race in Indiana.” Although John doesn’t physically race anymore, he is a huge supporter and will continue to live out his passion pain-free by building motorcycles and attending these events with his team.