West Fel community leader John Thompson is St. Francisville’s own Renaissance Man. The parish councilman, business owner, and church pastor prides himself on being able to do it all. But when his back pain became serious, Thompson knew it was time to ask for help.
As a parish councilman in West Feliciana, community leader John Thompson has addressed a myriad of local issues, from the public water supply to potholes in the parish’s historic streets. As the pastor of Greater Hollywood Missionary Baptist Church in St. Francisville, he’s seen his congregation through good times and bad, and his stone masonry business has helped many families add custom decorative touches to their homes.
Owning a stone-oriented construction business paired with nearly two decades as a process operator for Exxon earlier in life, Thompson has seen his share of hard labor. All that heavy lifting would eventually take its toll, and three years ago, Thompson visited West Feliciana community Doctor Chaillie Daniel for help with his back pain. “He told me my back was getting worse, and that I should stop any heavy lifting,” Thompson recalls. “And I did.”
Despite following Dr. Daniel’s advice, Thompson’s chronic back pain continued to worsen. He began walking with a cane, then a walker. With his commitments as church pastor, business owner, and parish councilperson, Thompson’s limited mobility made his busy schedule harder and harder to fulfill. “It kept getting worse and worse,” he says, “and it got to the point where I just couldn’t walk.”
While Thompson advocated for his St. Francisville community for years, he now found himself in the position of relying on it. Thompson was able to take advantage of West Feliciana Hospital’s advanced technology in CT and MRI, and with additional tests at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, doctors finally diagnosed the source of Thompson’s pain: cervical and thoracic spinal cord compression. Damage to several disks was causing Thompson to lose strength in his extremities. His balance was compromised, too. “I never felt any pain in my neck that was much more than discomfort,” says Thompson. “I thought I was just dealing with pulled muscles, you know?”
Thompson’s doctor told him he needed emergency back surgery to decompress his spinal cord and fuse the bones together, which involved placing screws in Thompson’s neck and the plates between his shoulder blades, as well as shaving bone spurs. Thompson originally wanted to postpone the procedure due to nerves, but his doctor warned him that waiting could paralyze him permanently. “I picked up the phone right after that and asked the department, ‘What time am I supposed to be there next week?’”
In the months following his surgery, the proximity of the hospital’s outpatient rehab services was a godsend for Thompson. After about four months of physical therapy, Thompson is feeling better than ever, and ready to get back to serving his community. “I walk better now than I ever did before this started.”