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St. Louis author John O'Leary shares his story of survival and how to live 'radically inspired'

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis author John O'Leary joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and a live audience on Wednesday to discuss his book 'On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life.'

St. Louis  author John O’Leary wasn’t supposed to survive the burns that covered 100 percent of his body when he had an accident at age 9. No one thought he would walk, write with a pencil, or play a piano ever again. O’Leary, now 38, is not only able to do those things, he also found love, married and fathered four children.

O’Leary shares his story in “On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life.” St. Louis on the Air and Left Bank Books hosted a live broadcast with the author in conversation with host Don Marsh on Wednesday.

Listen to the conversation here:

Watch the full conversation on Facebook Live here: 

Want to relive the conversation on Twitter? Follow the hashtag #STLonAirLIVE.

Here are seven quotes from the discussion that left us thinking afterward:

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Author John O'Leary, following the live broadcast of "St. Louis on the Air."

1. "If you think about burning your hand on a stovetop, you quickly pull it back and you still have a horrible blister. But if you can even just fathom for a moment being on fire, remaining on fire and standing there on fire ... every moment that passes is a moment closer to the grave. I'm extraordinarily blessed to be here with this audience today."

2. "It is easy to show up once. I think we can all drop off dinner one time. We can all offer one prayer. We can all send one note. It is when you come back again and again and again. My parents are my heroes. The book even, there was a time where they wanted my picture on the front of it. I'm not the hero of this story. The heroes reveal themselves, but two of the great heroes of the story, one is named 'Dad' and one is named 'Mom.' And they are heroes not just because they showed up on Jan. 17, 1987, in a beautiful way, but they showed up and they were there every day for five months and they were there every day afterwards."

3. "I had always viewed the fire as being a tragic, sad story. One that I had endured, survived and then tried my very best to forget about. And then [my parents] wrote this book about the tragedy and as I read about it, I realized it is not a tragedy, it is triumphant. It's a miracle story. I'm blessed. Maybe it is time to look in the mirror and instead of hiding my scars, embrace them."

4. "It's extraordinarily intentional, even the title of the book it is called 'On Fire.' ... When you can lay claim to that which was intended to be bad and turn it into something positive, you can transform your life and the lives of those you do life with afterwards. When I call a book 'On Fire' or we talk about igniting possibility or sparking potential, it is very purposeful. We're owning the fact that what could have been the end of it is actually the beginning."

5. "One of the greatest inspirations and encouragements was Jack Buck. I'm a middle-class boy from Missouri, St. Louis, who was a rabid baseball fan. The day after I'm burned, I'm laying in a hospital bed, the situation is hopeless, I am tied to the bed, I cannot move my arms or my legs, there's a trach, my eyes are swollen shut. The only thing as a kid that I could do was listen and radio is powerful. ... The voice that I loved as a child was Jack Buck, the voice of the Cardinals. The day after I'm burned, that voice, that man, that light comes into a dark situation, he comes in one time. What I remember him saying was: 'Kid, wake up. You are going to live, you are going to survive, you've got to keep fighting. When you get out we're going to celebrate at Busch Stadium and we'll call it John O'Leary Day at the Ballpark."

6. "The only certainty when you step into the world is that some point you will step out. And you will lose everything that mattered to you along the way as you journey on. Life is full of tragedy but it is also full of triumph, if you have eyes to see it. ... We all deal with tragedies in life. What I do to deal with it? I meditate, pray and journal every day. I find frequently that tragedies are about me, it's about my mindset, about my loss. When I choose instead to start serving someone else ... in that walk, you bump into individual after individual after individual with their story and in hearing their story, it inspires you to do better in your life going forward." 

7. "I think too frequently we try to balance, to juggle. None of us are talented jugglers. I encourage all of us to be present where you are and that, in doing that, you will be highly effective in doing that as a dad, a husband, a child of God, a speaker or radio interviewer."

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.