John Smith is a high school senior from St. Louis, Missouri with plans to be a pastor — so it may seem odd that he’s sitting through a long series of interviews for a movie press junket at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The first thing John will tell you is that he’s more than lucky to be alive. “It’s a blessing to be alive — to be able to talk with you today,” John told Angelus News.

Four years ago, John fell through into an icy lake in his hometown and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. He’d been in the water for 15 minutes. After 47 minutes John was still without a pulse despite the efforts of a team of medics. His mother Joyce came into the hospital room — his doctors had said it was her chance to say goodbye, but instead Joyce prayed for a miracle.

A heartbeat registered on the monitor moments later. The emergency physician on duty, Dr. Kent Sutterer at St. Joseph Hospital West, put it this way: “His heart was jump started by the Holy Spirit listening to the request of his praying mother.” He added later, “But a mother’s love and, more importantly, a mother’s prayer can overcome all obstacles.”

John was back to full health within a few months, despite doctors warning that he would not make it through his first night or that oxygen starvation would mean permanent brain damage.

John is honored that the feature film “Breakthrough,” a 20th Century Fox production, is telling his story. The movie is set for wide release April 17. John said he is happy with how Hollywood producers have worked with his family to get the story right.

“It’s just amazing to see how Devon Franklin, the producer, and Roxanne Dawson [the director] treated this like it was their own personal story,” he said. “They couldn’t have done a better job of keeping it true. And I think it was so important for me and my family knowing that we had people that we could trust to make sure that this stayed factual.”

Chrissy Metz (“This Is Us”) stars as Joyce, with Josh Lucas (“Sweet Home Alabama”) cast as her husband Brian. Metz said that meeting Joyce was a “wow” moment because of everything Joyce has been through. “She’s such a beautiful human being and to know that she’s come through this and to meet John and to be friends with them — it was really special.”

The Smith family worked closely with Dawson, a Catholic actor-turned-director, during the pre-production and filming process. Dawson said that talking about religion publicly has become taboo, and she wants this movie to change that. This film was a small miracle in itself, she said. She often struggles to find projects that are powerful and wholesome. “It’s difficult to find material that aligns with your Catholic ideals,” Dawson said. “And then this script was staring me in the face.”

John was eager to talk about the small miracles that happened alongside his own miraculous second chance at life. He mentioned one moment not included in the film, an encounter his mother had with a nun when she arrived at the hospital and frantically wanted to see her son.

“My mom came in and they took her to a little side room,” John said during the interview. “And there was a nun with a little habit on and they just started to pray.” Joyce said that the nun and her prayers gave her an overwhelming sense of peace.

When the family returned to the hospital after John made his full recovery, Joyce asked about the nun with the little habit. The hospital staff had also seen the nun since the nun had walked with Joyce to John’s room, but hospital staff said they had thought the nun was Joyce’s friend.

Religious sisters work at the hospital, but the staff said, “Our nuns don’t wear habits.”

“No one’s seen her. No one’s heard from her,” John said. “We believe it was an angel sent down to that room in that time to prayer for her and make sure that she had a sense of peace.”

John hopes that moviegoers leave with a deeper curiosity about God. He noted that this is the first film done by a major market that says the names Holy Spirit, God, and Christ. “And I think it’s truly amazing.”


Start your day with Always Forward, our award-winning e-newsletter. Get this smart, handpicked selection of the day’s top news, analysis, and opinion, delivered to your inbox. Sign up absolutely free today!