When you die, are your really dead?
Some scientists are now saying: maybe not.
We've all heard stories of people who have passed over, see a bright light, and see relatives who have died.
Then, they're brought back.
When does the person reach the point of "no return"?
Kevin MacDowell reports, medical advancements in critical care, are "Re-defining Death".
Karen Heasley remembers as if it was yesterday, "It's sort of like I was going into this dark, dark tunnel".
Rev. Heasley died once.
She was 5-years old, getting her tonsils out, when she received an accidental overdose of ether, "It just kept drawing me closer and closer to the light. I've never seen a light like that ever again. I wasn't really scared because once the light started encompassing me i felt a true warmth".
She was brought back after several minutes.
To this day, she insists she died.
That was 55 years ago.
She's now a member of the western PA-a chapter of the association of near death studies.
She also started "the spiritual path church", in New Castle.
She describes herself as a medium, who communicates with those who've passed over.
Fifteen years ago, when your heart stopped, brain stopped and breathing stopped, you were dead. But that's changing. Now with advances in resuscitation, they're bringing patients back 1 to 2 hours after death. And there's talk in 20-years, they may be able to bring patients back up to 24-hours after death.
Nowhere are those advances in resuscitation more evident then at hospitals like UPMC Hamot. Death is described as a process. If you die this instant, the cells in your body have not died. That takes longer. The question is how much longer. So, the key is to slow the process
Dr. Robert Ferraro is the Chief Medical Officer of the Heart Institute at Hamot, "We now have methods available with cooling patients, to keep their brain alive and allow them full recovery. The typical cooling that we use on the body is between 32 and 34 degrees centigrade, which is about 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to 98.6".
A well known researcher in the area of resuscitation is Dr. Sam Parnia, at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, New York.
He just wrote a book called "Erasing Death".
He also studies what people are experiencing, like Rev. Heasley, when they have 'in effect' died, or ceased brain activity.
Dr. Ferraro describes parnia's work as in it's infancy, although in 20 or 30 years, he says who knows what science will find, "We're seeing dramatic improvements. Survival rates may be as high as 60%, as opposed to 10 or 15% without these therapies".
That's the science.
But what about those stories from people who have been declared clinically dead.
The tunnel, the bright light?
Dr. Ferraro, "It may just be some deep memory situation within the brain where they aren't actually clinically dead. But if there's no brain activity? no activity in the usual sense that we can measure)
Rev Heasley, "I feel it was meant to happen for some unknown reason. And I feel blessed that when I came back I'm different, I'm changed".
As more and more people are brought back, the question arises: where did they go when they died?
Was there brain activity modern science can't detect?
Or was it something else?
Those are questions, yet to be answered.
The experts also point out, not everybody can or should be brought back.
They say, it's "not a cure for mortality".
Depending on age or organ damage, such as in cancer patients, the cell damage may be irreversible