Easter Sunday for many involves the mass consumption of chocolate, but on the Christian calendar it is the celebration of when Jesus Christ rose from the dead after being crucified on Good Friday and his resurrection was considered a miracle. However, what may be just a tale from the Bible for some is actually not that miraculous an occasion for the unfortunate few.
We’ve all heard of the odd ghost story and brushed it off so that we can sleep at night, but something you can’t disregard is the fact that some people have had near-death experiences where they have been pronounced clinically dead, before either showing signs of life or coming ‘back to life’ completely.
This phenomenon is known as Lazarus Syndrome, the name of biblical origin as, according to the New Testament, Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. It is thought that cases are extremely rare and unsurprisingly the phenomenon is poorly understood. The main theory is that during CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) the pressure in the chest is increased and once resuscitation efforts have finished, the subsequent lowering of pressure in the chest cavity may allow the heart to somehow expand, which initiates the re-firing of the electrical activity of the heart, hence the appearance of a heartbeat. Other theories suggest that Lazarus Syndrome may result due to a delayed reaction to drugs or that the body has some way of temporarily masking certain signs of life from being detected.
Many cases of Lazarus Syndrome share the link of patients who suffered cardiac issues, along with breathing problems and renal failure, prior to their apparent return to the world of the living. At least 26 cases of patients who were asystolic (showing no heartbeat or pulse) whose hearts mysteriously restarted have been reported.
One case in 2011 involved a 49-year-old Russian woman Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov, who tragically died at her own funeral. Her husband had been informed that his wife had died of a heart attack following her collapse in their home. The family arranged an open-casket funeral and as relatives were paying their respects, Fagilyu woke up screaming and was immediately taken to hospital, but unfortunately she only survived a further 12 minutes before being declared dead, this time correctly.
Another instance of this, which was one of the few that actually resulted in a full medical report, was of a 66-year-old man who was rushed into surgery upon presenting with a leaking abdominal aorta aneurysm, which is where an out-pocketing of the aorta (the main heart artery) can occur. This is often due to high blood pressure, leading to blood flowing where it shouldn’t, the bursting of which can cause collateral damage to surrounding organs.
It appeared that this man had died on the operating table after the use of several medications and attempts at CPR had failed.
Apparently the surgeon was giving a lecture when he realized that the man had a pulse again and luckily he recovered fully and was effectively ‘back from the dead’.
However, this doesn’t always just happen to the elderly or those with a chronic condition. A devastated mother who thought that she had given birth to a premature stillborn baby ‘had a feeling’ that something wasn’t quite right and despite her child being placed in a sealed coffin for 12 hours in the morgue, wanted to see her one last time. Much to her surprise, when the mother touched her baby she heard a faint cry and the doctors instantly placed the baby in specialist care. The parents named their child Luz Milagros meaning ‘miracle light’ as they simply could not believe what had happened.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many Lazarus patients where their body function has ceased for a period of time, Luz suffered irreversible brain damage and sadly only lived until just after her first birthday, when she died of multiple organ failure.
The above cases therefore beg the question, what actually defines someone as being dead?
What may on the surface seem like such a simple question is one that Lazarus Syndrome has complicated and also incorporates a huge ethical dilemma.
Normally, the time of death is announced when the function of the brain, respiratory system and circulatory system have ALL ceased to function in order to declare the time of death.
However in patients with Lazarus Syndrome, it has been reported that patients return to life within 10 minutes of resuscitation efforts being stopped, which has led to the recommendation of patients being monitored for a short period of time after their stated time of death.
It has been suggested that cases of Lazarus Syndrome are highly underreported and interestingly in the 18th and 19th centuries, people used to be buried with a bell beside their grave, with the cord leading into the coffin itself. If you happened to enjoy moonlit walks through the graveyard, hearing the ringing of a bell on a windless night may have given you quite the scare. The use of these ‘safety coffins’ may have been due to the fact that, back then, doctors didn’t have the machinery that we do today to detect signs of life and the thought of being buried alive was and still is quite a terrifying prospect. One may also wonder whether it was because a person waking up in their grave wasn’t that uncommon an occurrence. Apparently there are still variations of the ‘safety coffin’ available today.
So whilst munching on your chocolate this Easter, take a moment to ponder what’s possibly more disturbing: the obscene number of calories you’ve probably consumed or the chilling reality that resurrection may not just be a thing of the bible, and that some horror stories you hear may in fact be true.