Man burned over 98% of body inspires Crozer patients

CHESTER, Pa. - October 15, 2013

The Philadelphia non-profit Entrepreneurs Organization invited a man to visit the hospital Tuesday, who knows all too well what it's like to be a burn victim.

However, John O'Leary of Rising Above says he's the one who's inspired by burn victims like Mary Anne Hicks.

It happened in early September as she and her family were sitting around the fire pit, in her backyard.

"I tripped and fell into the fire pit and I burned both my hands, my right arm, my right breast," Hicks said.

But when burn patients hear John's story, it gives them a new way of looking at their lives.

"I remember running through the fire, on fire myself, back into the house," O'Leary recalled.

When John was nine he was playing with matches near a 5-gallon can of gasoline in the family garage. The can exploded, destroying his home and leaving him with burns over 98% of his body.

Doctors gave him a 1% chance to survive.

"I was in hospital for five months, had a couple dozen surgeries. I lost my fingers to amputation," O'Leary said.

Yet, John says the fire was a gift.

"It led to strength of faith and courage and character, resolve, and resilience; it brought me closer to my mom and dad and my family," O'Leary said.

As Crozer-Chester celebrates the 40th anniversary of its burn center, the doctors here, with the help of the Entrepreneurs Organization, brought John for a visit.

"It's such a step back when you look at someone that's burned, but when you see someone who takes that and just goes forward and doesn't have a problem with that, it really helps the other patients," Medical Director of Crozer Chester Burn Center, Mary Lou Patton, M.D., said.

John's parents focused on his healing after the accident, but seven years ago his father developed Parkinson's, couldn't work, and wrote a book on his son, the fire and their journey.

"As I read through this book myself, I realize the gift of the scars. That was the turning point in my life when I got to realize everything that I'd been through as a child turned out to work perfectly to where I was today as an adult," O'Leary said.

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