Mary Neal drowned when her capsized kayak pinned her under water. She had not been breathing for 15 to 25 minutes. Yet, during that time, she experienced the unexplainable.
Neal is not a person who is mystified by the supernatural. An orthopedic surgeon trained in the hard sciences, Dr. Neal describes this experience in her best-selling book "To Heaven and Back."
In various pages, the doctor lays out the details of her near-death adventure. She believes what she saw was not a dream. It was far too vivid — much like normal conscious activity.
Neal states that Jesus and a host of angels came into her presence. Although not a believer in any specific religion before the event, she always held a concept of a supreme being.
During this experience, Neal was told to return to her physical body. Her family was still in need. It was explained that their 9-year-old son, Willie, was going to die at a young age. Details were not provided. Ten years later, a distracted driver talking on a cellphone killed the young man.
Neal is not alone in having such an experience. Thousands have reported similar encounters. Some scientists have tried to theoretically explain this phenomenon as a biological and chemical reaction in which the brain slowly shuts down for an undetermined reason.
However, Neal does not buy this explanation. She states that a brain without oxygen cannot survive for 25 minutes. In addition, there would be no need for this process if consciousness ended at death.
Dr. Neal is not the only physician who has written about near-death activity. Raymond Moody, M.D. has also studied and authored a book on the subject, called "Life After Life."
The 68-year-old psychiatrist reviewed numerous cases of people who were clinically dead but brought back to life with modern life-saving equipment. Some of these stories are difficult to explain from a strictly rational point of view.
For example, Moody reports that one woman showed all signs of clinical death. She remembers during her experience that the attending physician said, "Let's try one more time (to resuscitate her) and then we'll give up."
Later, she found out that the doctor had spoken these exact words while she was "dead."
Another point he makes is: "Several doctors have told me that they are utterly baffled about how patients (with near-death experiences) with no medical knowledge could describe in detail and so correctly the procedure used in resuscitation attempts, even though these attempts took place while the doctors knew the patients involved to be 'dead.'"
A common conclusion from near-death patients is that life is simply a part of a learning process. It continues beyond our present lives. They say that they are no longer afraid of death. These same people have determined that service to others is the most rewarding goal in life, as opposed to quests for self-interest.
Do these doctors' testimonials and descriptive research "prove" that there is life after death? No. But here's one thing we do know: Belief in an afterlife has been around since Neanderthals walked the Earth over 100,000 years ago.
Today, most cultures and religions continue to accept the idea that the human spirit thrives beyond the existence of the physical body.
As researchers continue to discover the wonders of human life and consciousness, perhaps that day of "proof" is not too far off into future.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.