"90 Minutes in Heaven" reveals reach of God's hand on earth

by Jerry Circelli


North Texas Catholic


Although paramedics had declared him dead, Don Piper came back to life after being covered with a tarp for 90 minutes. In this scene, after discovering he is alive, firefighters rush to extract him from the mangled wreckage in “90 Minutes in Heaven.” (Photo by Quantrell Colbert)

For the first time since Don’s 13-month hospital stay, Eva Piper (Kate Bosworth) and Don Piper (Hayden Christensen) address Don’s congregation in “90 Minutes in Heaven,” from Giving Films. The movie will be released Sept. 11. (Photo by Quantrell Colbert)


In the new movie “90 Minutes in Heaven,” moviegoers intrigued with the title undoubtedly will be compelled to catch a glimpse of the hereafter.  The directors will not disappoint.

If you’re counting on being lifted, however, up to that place where only those who have passed from this life have gone, don’t expect to stay long. You’ll be offered only a glimpse.

That’s the beauty of “90 Minutes in Heaven.”

This is the true story of Don Piper, who was on his way home from a church conference in 1989 when his Ford Escort was struck head-on by a semi-trailer truck. Pronounced dead by four sets of EMTs, Don’s body was covered by a tarp for 90 minutes until another pastor happened by and began to pray for him. It was during this prayer time that Don experienced his first miracle — his vital signs returned.

What then unfolds in this movie is the suffering Don endured after returning to his broken body, including agonizing surgeries, breathing problems, painful therapies, strained relationships with family and friends, and the loss of his will to live.

The woman who stood firmly with Don through it all, truly living out her marital vows, was his wife, Eva.

During a recent pre-screening of the movie in Plano, Eva attended and spoke with the audience after the film.

 “It was very hard to watch,” Eva said. “There are some very painful moments in this movie, as you can imagine, but as I watch it, I realize how we leaned on our family, how we leaned on our Christian brothers and sisters, and how we especially leaned on God. Because God can bring you through anything if you just let Him.”

Eva said that she believes God helps people experience challenging times so they can, in turn, minister to others struggling through similar situations.

Through the ordeals shared in this movie, we learn that our worldly life is not all about us. It involves allowing people to experience the graces and blessings that come from helping others. Regardless of whether we feel their help is directly improving our lives in some tangible way, we learn that people’s offerings provide them solace and a sense of peace.

By example, “90 Minutes in Heaven” shows us how God calls people to be his hands on earth and how he blesses them with compassion. When we let people reach out to us, we allow God to touch our souls.

In an exclusive interview with the North Texas Catholic, Don said he learned that lesson the hard way.

Don Piper

While Don was in bad shape physically and emotionally in the hospital, a friend and pastor named Jay B. Perkins — played by Fred Thompson in the movie — admonished him for rebuffing those who showed up to try to help.

“What I failed to realize was how much it meant to them to help me,” Don told the North Texas Catholic.

“And Jay B. said, ‘It’s not your call. You’re not handling this well at all. In fact, you’re a raging hypocrite. You spent your life in ministry trying to meet their needs and now they’re trying to meet yours and you won’t help them.’

“It was a brilliant observation, really, and he was the only one to do it. He was very honest with me,” Don said.

Through this movie, it is Don’s desire to pass along that message.

“I want people to know that through crisis and difficulty, pain and suffering, there are opportunities to bless other people by helping them bless you.”

Near the end of “90 Minutes in Heaven,” we learn that Don felt someone holding his hand while he regained his vital signs under the tarp at the accident scene. No one, however, was holding Don’s hand — not even the pastor who was praying for him nearby. It was physically impossible to reach him in the mangled wreckage.

“I know that God sent an angel there to sustain me,” Don said. “And the Bible is very clear — they are around us, all the time.… God had strengthened me by sending an angel to hold my hand in that car.”

Don said that in late July, while he attended a prescreening of “90 Minutes in Heaven” with selected audiences in San Antonio, a group of seven nuns in full habits attended.

Impressed by their presence, Don graciously honored their request to pose with them for a picture.

“One of the sisters asked me if she could hold my hand. She held it, then she looked at me and said,  ‘I’ve always wanted to hold the hand of someone who held the hand of an angel.’

Don said the sister then asked if she could kiss his hand, and while he was somewhat speechless, he humbly said it would be OK.

“Then she reached down and very tenderly placed a kiss on the back of my hand. I noticed tears began to form in her eyes, and she said, ‘I won’t forget this.’

“And I said, ‘I won’t either. I won’t either.’ ”

Don learned from the nuns that they were all grief counselors. “When they left,” he said,  “I just thought, wow, what a divine appointment.”


More about 90 Minutes in Heaven

“90 Minutes in Heaven,” which opens in 800 theaters across the country Sept. 11,  follows a successful run of Don Piper’s book, “90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life”  (Fleming Revell, 2004). That book has sold more than 7 million copies in 46 languages, and remained on the New York Times best-seller list nearly four years after its release.

“90 Minutes in Heaven” stars Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars”) as Don Piper and Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns”) as Don’s wife, Eva. Also starring are Fred Thompson and Dwight Yoakam. The film is directed by Michael Polish (“The Astronaut Farmer”).

“90 Minutes in Heaven is presented by Giving Films, which is involved in stories that appeal to faith and family audiences. According to the production company, 100 percent of profits from its films are donated to charity.

Samuel Goldwyn Films — an independently owned and operated motion-picture company — is distributing the film.

See the movie trailer, view theaters that will show the film, and more at:


In the new movie “90 Minutes in Heaven,” moviegoers intrigued with the title undoubtedly will be compelled to catch a glimpse of the hereafter.  The directors will not disappoint.