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October 16th, 2009
06:59 PM ET

Near-death experience

Laura Geraghty was shocked 21 times before she came back from cardiac arrest with tales of the afterlife.

Laura Geraghty was shocked 21 times before she came back from cardiac arrest with tales of the afterlife.

Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Our special this weekend, “Another Day: Cheating Death,” includes the story of Laura Geraghty, a school bus driver in Massachusetts who survived a cardiac arrest that left her without a heartbeat for 57 minutes. While the medical aspect is astounding, just as interesting is the story Geraghty told when she was revived.

She’d floated out of her body, and found herself in a world of incredibly bright light – heaven, she says. While there she saw her son, daughter, granddaughter and even her ex-husband – who wouldn’t take her hand when she reached out to him. Eventually she came back to the real world.

Many cultures and religions describe a vivid world on the border of life and death, but the classic modern near-death experience, or NDE, was described by Dr. Raymond Moody in his 1966 book, “Life After Life.” While not every NDE includes the same features, among the most common – according to Moody – are bright lights, a tunnel, a sense of being out of the body and an intense feeling of peace and calm.

Most people who return from the verge of death with memories like this say it’s a life-changing experience. Many view it as direct proof of an afterlife – that the place they “visit” is the world we all will see after we die. But increasingly, near-death experience (a term coined by Moody) is being studied from the perspective of science.

Dr. Kevin Nelson, a neurologist at the University of Kentucky, believes an NDE is caused by REM activity, the same type of brain activity that’s linked to dreaming. REM activity, says Nelson, can be triggered by intense stress or even lack of oxygen. In fact, he says many people experience an out-of-body experience during fainting episodes, or if they momentarily lose blood flow to the brain – as in a massive head rush.

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Filed under: Medical News • Sanjay Gupta
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