Professor Sam Parnia of NYU Langone Medical Center has been studying near-death experiences (NDEs), which include strange visions, out-of-body experiences, and other “alterations of reality,” for many years.
In the latest large study, which ran from 2017 to 2020, Parnia and his associates followed 567 patients at 25 hospitals in the US and UK. All of these patients suffered cardiac arrest and were then given cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Resuscitation could not help most of them and people died, but 53 people were brought back to life. A third of them reported unusual sensations and visions during resuscitation.
Patient 1: “I heard my name repeated over and over again. And around me there were creatures – demons and monsters. It seemed to me that they were trying to tear pieces from my body. In the upper right corner of the place where I was, I noticed a man.
“His face was not visible, but it was a male figure. He shouted my name and grabbed my hand. I extended my hand to him and then I felt that someone was pulling me in their direction. And I heard: “Is she breathing? Is she breathing?” (voices of doctors from the resuscitation group).
Patient 2: “I remember being in a huge field with gray tents scattered everywhere. There were faceless figures standing there. I remember walking through the canyon. On both sides of the canyon there were people in white robes with hoods hiding their faces. The last thing I remember is that’s what they were all pointing their hands at me. Then everything went grey.”
Patient 3: “A man came into my field of vision and walked about 2-3 feet in front of me at a 30 degree angle, from a starting point about 10 feet away. He looked like a 1940s gangster. He had a long, pointed nose, a haircut.” a white wall” and a face that only his mother could love… He looked scared, angry and hostile.”
Patient 4: “I went into a house where I shouldn’t have been. The police caught me and I was wondering how to explain to them what I was doing in the house. Then I stepped in a puddle. When I got out of the puddle, I wasn’t wet and sort of disappeared into asphalt. The fisherman sang a sea song above me, and it rained.”
Patient 5: “I felt someone holding my hand. But it was very dark and I couldn’t see anything.”
Patient 6: “I do remember a being of light standing next to me. It towered over me like a huge tower of power, but it radiated only warmth and love. I saw moments from my life flashing before me and felt pride, love, joy and sadness pours out on me.
“Each frame was of me, but from the point of view of a being standing next to me or watching me. I was shown the consequences of my life, the thousands of people I interacted with, and I felt what they felt towards me, saw their lives and how I affected them. Then I saw the consequences of my life and the impact of my actions.”
Patient 7: “I went straight to a bright place. It happened calmly and instantly. I perceived the place where I was as something like an entrance somewhere. There was one main being of love and many other beings of love… There was nothing there except love, goodness, truth and everything related to love.
“There was no place for fear, or evil, or anything else except this love. It was more wonderful than all my best hopes or experiences in the real world. It was beyond perfection and love as we know it in our human condition. There are no words to describe it. I was so happy there.”
Patient 8: “I remember entering something like a tunnel. The feelings I experienced there were much more intense than normal. The first feeling was a feeling of deep peace. It was so calm and serene, with an incredible amount of calm.
“All my worries , thoughts, fears and opinions disappeared. The intensity of the calm was so incredible and overwhelming that there was no fear in what I was experiencing. I had no fear of where I was going or what to expect when I got there. Then I felt warmth. Then the desire to return home appeared.”
Patient 9: “I could see what was going on around me. I was standing next to my bed and it was very strange.”
Patient 10: “I was no longer in my body. I was floating without weight or sense of physicality. I was floating above my body, right under the ceiling of the intensive care room. I was watching the scene that was happening below me.
“I, who was no longer the body that belonged to me just a moment ago, found myself in a position that was more sublime. It was a place that had nothing to do with any material experience.”
Patient 11: “They asked me if I wanted to go home [stay alive] or stay here. I told them my two sons needed me and I had to go back. And suddenly I was back in my body, feeling my aching joints flare up.” “I don’t really remember what was happening around me at that moment, only that I was in pain.”
Patient 12: “I remember seeing my father.”
Patient 13: “I thought I heard my grandmother [who passed away] say, ‘You need to come back.'”
The researchers also found that the brains of 40% of patients showed activity up to 1 hour after cardiac arrest.
“Although doctors have long believed that the brain suffers irreversible damage about 10 minutes after the heart stops supplying it with oxygen, our work has shown that signs of recovery of electrical activity in the brain can appear long after CPR is performed,” says Dr. Sam Parnia.
The new study “represents a Herculean effort to understand as objectively as possible the nature of brain function as it may apply to consciousness and near-death experiences during cardiac arrest,” says Lakhmir Chawla, an intensive care unit physician at Jennifer Moreno Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., who was not involved in the research but has published papers on spikes of EEG activity at the time of death in some patients.
While the results Parnia and his colleagues report are “striking” from a scientific point of view, “I believe that we should allow these data to also inform our humanity,” he adds.