On Saturday morning, January 17, 1987, a curious, nine-year-old boy attempted to recreate a stunt with fire he had seen older boys do, so he walked into his family’s garage with a piece of newspaper slightly burning to search for a can of gasoline. A massive explosion occurred, propelling him 15 feet across the garage, engulfing his entire body in flames. He ran through the house screaming, awakening two of his sisters and his older brother who managed to put out the flames by rolling him on a rug in the front hall and then in the snow.
The boy was rushed to the hospital where doctors discovered devastating third-degree burns on 85 percent of his body. His parents were informed that he would likely not survive the night and had a less than 1 percent chance of living.
And yet, he did. Through five months in the burn unit, 15 surgeries, grueling bandage changes and physical therapy, an unrelenting will to live and the undeniable hand of God, he survived.
There were countless acts of kindness, generosity and good-hearted people who became part of the little boy’s story of survival. One of the most significant was the legendary voice of the St. Louis Cardinals and [future] Hall of Famer Jack Buck. When Jack heard about the horrific accident of a little boy who loved baseball, he was so moved that he went to the hospital to visit him. Though the situation appeared hopeless, Jack returned regularly, for months, encouraging him to fight. He promised the little boy that when he was strong enough to leave the hospital he would host him at the ballpark for a special day of celebration, watching his beloved Cardinals play.
And so, it was. On July 10, 1987, the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated John O’Leary Day at the ballpark.
This extraordinary evening in 1987 foretold the epic journey of my brother from burn survivor to a man thriving as a husband, father, international speaker, podcaster and New York Times best seller of On Fire. His transformative message is his mission—a call to live radically inspired, purposeful lives.
Next month, an exceptional cast of actors, producers and directors begins filming On Fire in my hometown. William H. Macy, John Corbett and Joel Courtney are among the talented actors who will portray my brother’s story on the big screen.
My words fail to express my excitement and pride. Not only for my brother, our family and what he overcame, but now the power of his message to impact so many more lives.
Stay on fire,