When life hangs in the balance, it’s not always easy to see your way out. Whether you’re lying in a hospital bed completely covered in third degree burns or looking at a pregnancy test that has turned your world upside down, sometimes miracles show up to help carry you through. That was the message of John O’Leary on Tuesday night at Vitae Foundation’s Pro-Life Event in St. Charles, Mo.
O’Leary asked the crowd of 430 Vitae supporters gathered at the St. Charles Convention Center if they’d ever done anything in their life that was a mistake. He recalled what set his world on fire—literally. At age 9 he’d watched a neighborhood kid set gasoline on fire in the street and thought, “If he can do that and get away with it, so can I.” He didn’t.
One strike of the match created a tremendous explosion and blew O’Leary 20 feet across his garage, burning 100 percent of his body. Lying in the hospital, he wondered if he was going to die. The doctors thought he had no chance of surviving.
Inside his new reality, O’Leary was looking for truth and was offered hope from his mother. She asked young John if he wanted to die, because she told him it wasn’t her choice, it was his. He was able to tell her that he did want to live. She replied, “Good baby. Take the hand of God. You walk the journey with him, and you fight like you’ve never fought.” It was January 17, 1987. On that day his entire family and his community made a decision for life.
“Instead of a diagnosis of death, we chose life. Tonight, we are gathered to support others in life, much like others supported me,” O’Leary stated. “We can make these choices by ourselves, but we can’t do it very successfully on our own. We’re intended to do it as a community.”
On day two in the hospital, they had to place a trach tube in his throat so he could breathe easier. With eyes swollen shut and no longer able to talk, his world was limited to listening. He heard footsteps and realized someone was there. Then he heard the voice he had heard countless times on the radio as he listened to his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
“Kid…wake up. You are going to live. You are going to survive. Keep fighting. John O’Leary Day at the ballpark will make this all worthwhile,” Hall of Fame baseball announcer Jack Buck said. “Kid, are you listening? (O’Leary made a movement.) Good, keep fighting.”
When Buck left the room, he openly wept out in the hall. The Cardinals announcer asked the doctor if John was going to live. The doctor said, “Not a chance. It’s his time.” Buck went home, prayed and asked the question, “What more can I do?”
Back inside that hospital room was a kid tied to a bed “on fire for life.” Buck would return to the hospital many times over the next five months. Each visit was short, but consistent, “Kid…wake up. I’m back. You are going to live. You are going to survive. Keep fighting.”
Upon returning home, there was indeed a “John O’Leary Day at the Ballpark.” Still, Buck went home and pondered, “What more can I do?”
What ensued was a journey that inspired a boy without fingers to do what he thought impossible—write. A baseball showed up at O’Leary’s house autographed by Ozzie Smith. The note read if he wanted another, write a thank you to the man who autographed this ball. His mother had been telling him if he could write he could go back to school. Now the boy who’d been disfigured by fire had the ultimate enticement, writing a thank you note to his baseball hero. As soon as the thank you note was sent, another ball arrived at his house. By the end of the year, when the Cardinals went to the World Series, O’Leary would have 60 autographed baseballs.
“He (Jack Buck) recognized it was so important to meet people where they are,” the bestselling author stated. “That’s Vitae.”
Market Director Zip Rzeppa told the audience that Vitae delivers brilliant, effective digital messages to the pregnant woman—right where she’s living: on her phone, on her laptop, on her computer.
“How do we know our messages are so effective? Because of the results,” Rzeppa noted. “The number of inquiries from abortion-minded women to the Pregnancy Help Centers dramatically increases wherever our messages are placed.”
In 1980 there were more than 21,000 abortions performed in Missouri. In 2016 abortions in Missouri dropped to 7,254. One abortion is too many, but it’s one of the highest percentage declines in the United States. Rzeppa said the Meet Life Campaign with Missouri’s Knights of Columbus has contributed to the decline in recent years. The Knights have placed 42 ultrasounds in centers across the state. Coupled with Vitae’s digital marketing efforts to help women find those centers, this one-two punch allows women to find life-affirming centers they otherwise wouldn’t.
Vitae President Rob Rysavy explained that over and over again Vitae’s research shows that the abortion-determined woman does not know how to find the pregnancy center.
“She can find Planned Parenthood. No surprise, their marketing budget is over forty times Vitae’s entire annual budget,” Rysavy explained. “The one thing that is desperately missing from centers and the pro-life movement is the one thing that Vitae does better than anyone else. We can find that mom and get her to the center before Planned Parenthood does, but we need your help.”
Whether a sports legend shows up in your life and gives you the determination to move forward, or a Vitae ad pops up on your screen when you are desperate and looking for answers, miracles do happen every day. The miracle that Vitae makes happen simply guides a woman to a community that will embrace her and show her she has more than one choice…and a choice she can live with.
There is so much more to John O’Leary’s story, as he celebrated his 30-year anniversary of that first John O’Leary Day at the Ballpark this past summer. The father of four had more incredible encounters with Jack Buck, but what he learned from it all was that Buck taught him how to believe.
“I learned that life matters, in all forms, in all ways, for all time,” O’Leary stated. “Jack said it best, ‘What more can I do?’ Vitae, thank you for asking and answering that question. Thank you for your presence.”
If you want to help Vitae further its mission of helping women find life-affirming Pregnancy Help Centers via digital marketing strategies, please help us with a donation today.