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Those who've undergone a near-death experience (NDE) can expect to have their deeply personal adventure explained away by those who've never been there.

It's human nature (especially today) to argue over darn near anything, especially when it involves the possibility of consciousness surviving the failure of our bodies (my instincts assure me it does).

Some skeptics argue an NDE is nothing but the throes of a dying brain, or attribute the phenomenon to anesthesia gone awry, or perhaps a vivid imagination. There's not much to sway naysayers short of experiencing for themselves. In one way, it's like millions of UFO sightings being readily debunked by those who've never had one.

But when it comes to one's consciousness departing then returning to their body after being dead for about an hour by every clinical definition, there is one case that even the cynics can't credibly dismiss.

Perhaps you've never heard of the late Pamela Reynolds and her NDE experience at age 35. A talented blues singer from Atlanta, Pam was living a normal life before she underwent a dangerous and rare 7-hour surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1991.

In the process, physicians drained every drop of blood from Reynolds' brain, rendering it completely inactive.

Yet upon awakening (and never having seen the operating room beforehand), Reynolds could describe the procedure to physicians in incredible detail and much of what she'd experienced during surgery as she said her disembodied consciousness observed from above.

That made her perhaps the most solidly documented example of an NDE, although hers as a whole certainly is far from unique. I read that one study of cardiac patients in a single hospital in the Netherlands reportedly found, of 344 patients who'd been declared clinically dead, 18 percent reported an experience of life after death.

I'm especially fascinated by Reynolds' NDE because her lengthy state of monitored "demise" during the operation was so thoroughly documented.

Her adventure began after a CAT scan had revealed an enormous and likely fatal aneurysm near her brain stem. Because of its difficult location, Reynolds was predicted to have no chance of surviving surgery to remove it.

But Robert F. Spetzler, a neurosurgeon from Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, decided a rare procedure called hypothermic cardiac arrest, also known as a "standstill" operation, could improve Reynolds' chances. She had nothing to lose.

During the surgery, her body temperature was lowered to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and her breathing and heartbeat were halted. The blood drained from her head and body as ear plugs containing tiny speakers were inserted in her ears. Her eyes also were taped shut before surgery began.

Those tiny speakers emitted audible clicking to check the function of the brain stem and ensure she maintained a flat EEG (non-responsive brain) before the operation began. Neither thought nor memory were possible. The operation was a success and Reynolds recovered completely.

It was what occurred during her time on the table that confirmed at least portions what other NDE experiencers say they observed.

Pam said she initially heard a tone that sounded like a natural "D," which seemed to remove her from her body to float above the operation and observe. She said the surgical saw used to open her skull resembled her electric toothbrush (which it did), and she overheard conversations between the doctors and staff about her small blood vessels. All this despite zero brain activity and the ear plugs clicking away many times per second.

At some point, she was drawn toward a pinpoint of brilliance and presence that intensified as she moved toward it. She then heard her late grandmother's voice calling as she began to discern figures around her in the brilliant light. They included her grandmother, an uncle, and an aunt who'd died while Pam was hospitalized. There also were others she didn't know.

The longer she spent there, Pam said, the more she yearned to stay. Yet she was reminded that she had to return to her husband and children. She said her uncle escorted her back to her body (which, in her words, looked terrible) and she didn't want to go back inside. So he pushed her as the body was pulling her back in. She arrived to a sensation akin to jumping into ice water.

During her stay with the relatives and beings clad in a radiant glow, she was told the pervasive light there was not God, but rather God's breath. She said she wanted to step fully into that light but was discouraged and told she could never return. She also said she was fed with sparkles of energy rather than what we consider food.

Shortly before dying (for good) of heart failure in 2010, Pam, then 53, was asked if she feared death. "No! Are you kidding? I am more afraid to live! Dying is nothing. It's easy ... Living is hard," she said.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

Editorial on 11/24/2019


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