Dr. Eben Alexander III has been an academic neurosurgeon for the last 25 years, including 15 years at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Over those years he personally dealt with hundreds of patients suffering from severe alterations in their level of consciousness. Many of those patients were rendered comatose by trauma, brain tumors, ruptured aneurysms, infections, or stroke. While many comatose patients died, there were occasional ones who recovered. None of them was able to provide much insight concerning their experience.
In the predawn hours of November 10, 2008, Dr. Alexander himself became a comatose patient. For reasons that remain obscure, he was overcome by a fulminant bacterial meningitis and was comatose on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit within hours. His physicians were stunned to find that the culprit was a bacteria that almost never causes spontaneous meningitis in adults! After six days on triple antibiotics, showing no response and with little neurological function remaining, his physicians had few words of encouragement for his family.
On day seven he said “Thank you” when the breathing tube was removed! However, his earliest recollections were strange and involved no recall of his life before coma. Like a newborn, he had no functioning language, nor knowledge of this world, our culture, or the loved ones surrounding him. Foggy-minded for several days, he steadily improved and began writing and organizing his recollections of the experience. Memories from the time in coma were inexplicable. They were like a patchwork quilt, with no apparent sequence, nor temporal relationship to one another. The purest and most extraordinary part of his journey happened deep in coma. How, then, was it possible for that rich experience to originate in his badly infected brain?
Excerpt from Proof of Heaven:
As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death.
The brain is an astonishingly sophisticated but extremely delicate mechanism. Reduce the amount of oxygen it receives by the smallest amount and it will react. It was no big surprise that people who had undergone severe trauma would return from their experiences with strange stories. But that didn’t mean they had journeyed anywhere real.
Although I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief. I didn’t begrudge those who wanted to believe that Jesus was more than simply a good man who had suffered at the hands of the world. I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself.