Pam Reynolds was 35 years old when she went under the knife in an unusual, daring brain surgery. She had a near-death experience (NDE) in which she heard surgeons talking and observed the procedure, though all sensory perception should have been null at the time and her brain activity had ceased.
What she saw and heard was later verified by checking the surgeons’ reports. This 1991 case provides one of the strongest pieces of verifiable, well-documented, evidence for the existence of NDEs as a phenomenon outside of the brain. It suggests the feelings NDEers report of being separate from the body are accurate and not merely hallucinations conjured within a malfunctioning brain.
Though her case is one of the strongest, Reynolds isn’t the only one to have reported seeing things outside of the body that were later verified. These are known as veridical perception cases. Sam Parnia, M.D., Ph.D., is working on a study to continually and methodically gather NDE data and identify such cases. Parnia is a critical care physician and director of resuscitation research at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. He is leading the AWARE project in hospitals around the world.
In participating hospitals, patients who are revived after cardiac arrest and whose brains had stopped functioning, with their bodies clinically dead, are asked to report what they felt, heard, and saw, if anything.
Independent markers are also set up. If the person leaves his or her body and happens to see these markers, tucked away in places out of ordinary sight, it points to a genuine out-of-body experience.
Jan Holden, a counseling professor at the University of North Texas and long-time NDE researcher, noted however, some shortcomings in such studies. Out of five studies in which visual targets were established, not a single successful case was reported. It may have to do with the nature of the targets, she said. “What they [NDEers] focus on has more to do with things that are of emotional and spiritual significance than like a square of blue in a corner with a triangle and a number on it,” Holden said at the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) 2014 Conference in Newport Beach, Calif., on Aug. 29.
Another challenge faced by these studies is that these markers can be seen by someone standing on a ladder. Thus, one could argue that the person may have—however unlikely—heard about or seen the markers through normal sense perception.
Having studied dozens of veridical perception cases herself, Holden said in an email that Reynolds’s experience is “is what I consider the most evidential.” She sent Epoch Times a 116-page document outlining, with direct quotes from the NDEers, the cases she studied to inform the chapter on veridical perception she wrote in “The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences.” Holden has found that 92 percent of apparent veridical perception cases are accurate, 6 percent have some errors, and only one in 93 cases are completely inaccurate.
Here is a closer look at the Reynolds case and a case from Holden’s studies.
A Closer Look at the Reynolds Case
Dr. Robert Spetzler, director of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., performed the unique procedure on Reynolds to treat a brain aneurysm. Reynolds was put into hypothermic cardiac arrest; her body temperature was lowered, her heartbeat and breathing stopped, her brainwaves flattened, and the blood was drained from her head.
“In everyday terms she would be dead. But in the hands of skilled physicians she was not. Or was she?” asked Michael Sabom in his book “Light and Death: One Doctor’s Fascinating Account of Near-Death Experiences.”
Reynolds recalled clearly what happened after the anesthesia was administered and the procedure began: “The next thing I recall was the sound: It was a natural D. As I listened to the sound, I felt it was pulling me out of the top of my head. The further out of my body I got, the more clear the tone became. I had the impression it was like a road, a frequency that you go on. … I remember seeing several things in the operating room when I was looking down. It was the most aware that I think that I have ever been in my life.”
An example of something she observed that was later verified was the comment she heard one of the surgeons make. She heard the surgeon say her arteries were very small and she identified which surgeon it was.
In her operative report, this surgeon wrote that she had discussed the small size of Reynolds’s artery, and the time matched up in relation to the timeline of Reynolds’s memories.
Could she have heard it through ordinary means?
“At the beginning of the procedure, molded ear speakers were placed in each ear as a test for auditory and brain-stem reflexes. These speakers occlude the ear canals and altogether eliminate the possibility of physical hearing,” wrote Sabom. Reynolds eyes were lubricated and taped shut.
Brainwave activity was continuously monitored and events such as a temporal lobe seizure—which is sometimes hypothesized as a brain-based cause of an NDE—was “extremely unlikely,” reported Dr. Spetzler.
Maria Sees a Tennis Shoe
One of the cases Holden reviewed was that of Maria, a migrant worker who was visiting friends in Seattle when she had a severe heart attack. Maria’s story was told by Bruce Greyson and Charles P. Flynn in “The Near-Death Experience: Problems, Prospects, Perspectives.”
During her NDE, Maria reported having left her body and having observed the area outside of her hospital room. She saw an object on the third floor ledge on of the building. It was a tennis shoe that had a worn place where the little toe would fit and a lace stuck under the heel. She gave other details describing the shoe. A healthcare worker checked where Maria said the shoe should be.
It was indeed there. The healthcare worker retrieved the shoe and noted that these details would only have been visible from the perspective of someone floating outside, very close to it. They were not visible from the windows.