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Cardiac Arrest and Near-Death Experiences

Updated: Apr 11

Over 350,000 people die of cardiac arrest each year in the United States alone. This condition occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, stopping blood flow to the body, including the heart and brain. It is fatal if not treated immediately. The most frequent cause of cardiac arrest is erratic heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, which inhibit the ability of the heart to pump blood effectively.

Nearly 200,000 cases of cardiac arrest occur in hospitals. Yet, even in a critical care setting, merely 24% of patients survive. There is a 12% survival rate for those occurring outside a hospital setting. It is estimated that cardiac arrest is the third leading cause of U.S. deaths, outside of cancer and heart disease.

In-hospital, critical care treatment most often includes CPR, defibrillation (shocking the heart back into normal rhythm), intubation (inserting a tube into ones airways to assist with breathing), and IV medications.

Near-death experiences which occur in-hospital during cardiac arrest, remain the closest model of the process of dying. These are considered the most objective and scientific method to study brain, mind, and consciousness at a time of clinical death. Why? From a biological standpoint, cardiac arrest is the same as clinical death, or “flat-line”. The medical community uses these terms interchangeably.

It remains medically inexplicable that highly lucid consciousness can exist during clinical death from cardiac arrest. However, five current independent studies conducted in the UK, Holland, and the US corroborate this phenomena.

In Science and the Near-death Experience: How Consciousness Survives Death, author Chris Carter describes an extraordinary case of a NDE precipitated by cardiac arrest. This account is known as “The case of the missing dentures.” The traditional scientific community considers the lucid content and verdical (looking down from a viewpoint above one’s body) perception of this case medically inexplicable. Yet, as a coronary-care nurse later described her DOA (dead on arrival):

After admission, he receives artificial respiration without intubation, while heart massage and defibrillation are also applied. When we decided to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the “cart.” Only after a week do I meet again with this patient…The moment he sees me he says: “Oh, that nurse knows where my dentures are…Then he elucidates: “Yes, you were there when I was brought into the hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that cart, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer and underneath and there you put my teeth.” …It appeared the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above…He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated also well as the appearance of those present like myself.

Another compelling case study was recorded by Dr. Ken Ring, in his best-selling book, Lessons from the Light. Ring’s subject, Maria, was a migrant worker visiting Seattle for the first time. While visiting, she was rushed to the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. While recuperating in the coronary care unit, she went into cardiac arrest and was declared clinically dead. She was successfully resuscitated a few minutes later.

Maria related her NDE to Kimberly, her critical care social worker. Maria described herself rising above her body and “floating” to a window ledge on the third floor of the hospital’s north wing. Sitting on the window ledge was a man’s left-footed, blue sneaker, which she describe in minute detail, as having a worn little toe and shoelace tucked under its sole.

Kimberly located the sneaker on a third floor ledge, exactly as Maria had described it. In recounting the story Kimberly explained:

The only way she could have had such a perspective was if she had been floating right outside and at a very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence (that Maria had a NDE) for me.

Dr. Ring also commented on Maria’s astonishing story:

Now, on hearing a case like this one, one has to ask: What is the probability that a migrant worker visiting a large city for the first time, who suffers a heart attack and is rushed to a hospital at night would, while having a cardiac arrest, simply “hallucinate” seeing a tennis shoe-with very specific and unusual features, on the ledge of a floor higher than her physical location in the hospital? Not bloody likely!

How can such complex states of consciousness including vivid mentation, sensory perception, and memory can occur under conditions in which neurophysiologic models consider such states impossible?

The Horizon Research foundation concludes:

The study of near-death experiences during cardiac arrest, together with a lack of plausible biological mechanisms to account for the causation of consciousness from brain processes, has led to major questions about this theory. Many may now have to reconsider their opinions based upon the latest data. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time in science that a prevailing view has been proved wrong. When we look back, we can see that many widely accepted theories have been modified or even completely changed in the light of new evidence. (

Check out our book, Convergence: The Interconnection of Extraordinary Experiences

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