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An inspiring story

Our Bible tells us that God never gives us a load that we cannot bear, if only we are willing to allow him into our life.

Last summer, at a legislative conference that I attended, I heard John O’Leary, author of the book On Fire, who offered an inspiring speech. His story and the way he presented it entertains while bringing tears to everyone’s eyes. O’Leary, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, grew up as most young boys, loving sports and getting into mischief. At the age of nine, an explosion left O’Leary with third degree burns over 87 percent of his body. He remembered laying in the hospital bed as his father arrived outside the room. As he tells the story, all he could think was that his father was going to kill him for playing with fire. With third degree burns over most of his body, what he heard the doctor say was, “We will do all we can.”

The story of the accident was headline news. As reported by Dan O’Neill in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this is the story. O’Leary had received burns so bad that few survive; the odds were even less for a 9-year-old boy. While he was tied to the hospital bed, unable to eat, drink, or breathe on his own, with his eyes swollen shut, a voice said to him, “Listen to me kid, you’re going to make it.” As a St. Louis baseball fan, John recognized the radio voice of Jack Buck, the Cardinals’ game announcer. Before Buck walked out he added, “And when you do, we’re going to celebrate. We‘re going to have ‘John O’Leary Day’ at the ballpark.” When Buck left the room, he cried. The nurse explained to him that there was no hope of him surviving.

The next morning Buck returned to the burn center. Upon returning to the room he said, “Wake up kid, I’m back. Listen to me, you have to keep fighting.” The visits went on for five months. He often sent players to visit O’Leary. All for a kid that he didn’t even know, but he wanted to make a difference.

Seven months later, the Cardinals held “John O’Leary Day” with O’Leary in a wheelchair and totally bandaged; fingers on both hands had been amputated. The next day he received a baseball autographed by the famous Ozzie Smith with a note attached. “Kid, if you want another all you have to do is write ‘Thank You– Jack Buck.’” With help from his parents he scribbled. Two days later he received another baseball and another until he had 60 balls. Jack Buck continued to encourage O’Leary until he graduated from college.

O’Leary’s story is remarkable. He started a successful business. He has served as a chaplain at a children’s hospital, and he is an inspirational speaker. What he learned through the ordeals of his youth is that one person can make a difference. Jack Buck had simply stopped by the hospital to please a friend of a friend. He had no plans to do more than that. However, from within his heart he decided that he was going to try everything to inspire a boy to live and prosper. He found the inner strength to make a difference. Now, John O’Leary is doing the same thing for others.

Each of us can make a difference also, we can inspire others. Pray that you are listening when the call comes.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.