A St. Louis-area man who survived being severely burned as a child is the subject of a movie that’s just finished shooting.

“On Fire” tells the story of John O’Leary, who suffered burns over his entire body — 87% of which were third-degree burns — when he was nine years old. He said he remembers the blast that nearly killed him in 1987.

“I remember it in great detail,” he told Missourinet. “I remember the explosion. I remember being trapped in the garage. I remember coming out of it, and I remember everything until about, you know, maybe three hours or so into my time in hospital.”

O’Leary spent several months hospitalized, underwent numerous surgeries and spent years in physical therapy. He said tough love from his parents helped motivate him to recover.

“The night I came home from the hospital, I struggled eating, and rather than just pick up the fork and feed me – one of my sisters tried – my mother said, ‘Amy, if John’s hungry tonight, he’s going to feed himself,’” he said. “And it was this tough-love approach, and that second word’s important, like love, but it was a tough love approach to show this little boy that he could still do all things.”

He went through numerous surgeries over the years and gradually recovered, in large part due to encouragement from legendary Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck.

“I’m in a hospital bed, tied down and cut off, and the door opens up, and Jack Buck comes directly there,” O’Leary said. “He sits down next to me, opens up his mouth with the words, ‘kid, wake up.’ This big Hall of Fame radio voice, ‘Kid, wake up. You are going to live. You’re going to survive. Keep fighting.’”

Buck kept coming back to visit O’Leary and telling him he was going to live, despite doctors telling Buck that the little boy would not make it.

The movie focuses in part on the relationship between O’Leary and Buck and how that relationship pushed him to relearn how to write and do other things for himself.

Today, O’Leary is married with four kids, owns two businesses, and travels the country as a motivational speaker.

The movie “On Fire” is now in post production, and it’s the first movie to take advantage of Missouri’s revived film tax credit. O’Leary said he expects it to premier sometime in April of next year.

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