‘It’s a Miracle’: Scenes of Grace From an Italian Restaurant

‘Mary, your Son turned water into wine,’ my friend pleaded. ‘I beg you to ask him to heal John!’

John and Barbara Balestrieri
John and Barbara Balestrieri (photo: Courtesy Photo)

One night in May 2022, my friends Barbara and John Balestrieri went out for a casual dinner at an Italian restaurant in their Franklin Square, New York, town. They had barely sat down when John collapsed, his head going down to his arm on the table. At first Barbara thought he had dropped his phone and was reaching for it. She called his name and nudged him. Nothing. She began screaming.

A young nurse who happened to be in the small restaurant rushed over, calling for help to lay John on the floor. The nurse felt no pulse and began CPR. Barbara went into a complete panic, running out of the restaurant calling out to God to save her husband. To the Blessed Mother, she pleaded, “Mary, Mary! Your Son turned water into wine! I beg you to ask him to heal John!” She says she doesn’t know why that miracle of Jesus’ came into her mind, but it was all she could think about as she paced up and down the sidewalk outside the restaurant.

While someone inside the restaurant followed Barbara outside to calm her, CPR was continuing inside. Just then an off-duty fireman stopped by the restaurant to pick up an order, saw what was happening and ran out to his truck to get a defibrillator. That brought John back, but while they waited for an ambulance, John “coded” again. The defibrillator brought him back yet again, but no one present expected John to live.

The ambulance arrived and John was placed into it. On the way to the hospital he coded a third and fourth time. Barbara was brought to the hospital and after an examination of her husband she was told to expect him to die very shortly. He had HOCM (hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy) and she was told only 1% of people survive a cardiac event of it.

While their children and a priest came to the hospital, parishioners at St. Catherine of Sienna — including two prayer groups and the Knights of Columbus, of which John is a member — were urged to pray for him. He was placed in an induced coma for nine days. While in the coma, he coded a fifth time. A hospital cardiologist said it was a miracle to code five times with HOCM and survive.

Yet John gradually woke up from the coma and credits prayer, giving all thanks and glory to God and his Blessed Mother. “He had everyone in the right place at the right time. What are the odds of both a nurse and a fireman with a defibrillator being in a 10-table restaurant at the same time on a weeknight?” He remembers that just the night before he’d been alone working on a house project, and if the attack had come then, no one would have been home to help him.

John has been a completely changed man since that day. He spent weeks recuperating, during which he went over the amazing events that brought about his astounding recovery.

“I don’t know why God chose to save me, but obviously he has plans for me,” he says. “He wants me still here for a reason. Every day I pray and thank God and our Blessed Mother and ask them to guide me to what they want me to do for the rest of my life. Maybe part of it is to share this story. There’s no other way to explain the circumstances around my still being here. It’s a miracle! And I pray that it will help lead others to faith in Jesus Christ and our Blessed Mother.”

As it turns out, the young nurse, Angelica, was greatly affected herself by intervening to save John that night. She thanks God for the role he gave her that night in that restaurant, explaining that she had been somewhat disillusioned with nursing and was thinking of leaving the field. This powerful experience gave her purpose and conviction to stay with nursing, and increased her faith as well.

Barbara and John shared their testimony with their parish last month, expressing gratitude to God and to all those who prayed. Barbara said her faith has sustained her throughout her life. Her heart is full of gratitude, and she gives praise and glory to God and Blessed Mother Mary.