Erasing Death: Dr. Sam Parnia, Intensive Care Physician Explains Afterlife Insights, Stopping Death

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Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death reveals that death is not a moment in time. Death, rather, is a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Innovative techniques have proven to be effective in revitalizing both the body and mind, but they are only employed in approximately half of the hospitals throughout the United States and Europe. Dr. Sam Parnia claims that the chance of successful interruption of death strongly depends on zip code. He says the best area in the United States is Seattle, Washington.

“If we cool people down by a number of degrees Celsius … we slow down the rate by which cells — particularly brain cells — are undergoing their own process of death, because we have to remember that cell death takes place through chemical steps. So, from our high school chemistry days we all know that chemical reactions need heat, and if you take away the heat, that slows down the chemical reaction.”

— Dr. Sam Parnia, M.D.

“Parnia demonstrates that consciousness can persist after the disappearance of any outward sign of brain activity… His story gives hope for future improvements.”

—Graham Nichol, M.D., MPH, FRCP(C),director of the University of Washington–Harborview Center for Prehospital Emergency Care in Seattle, Washington

Contrary to popular belief, death is not a moment in time, such as when the heart stops beating, respiration ceases, or the brain stops functioning. Death, rather, is a process — a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Innovative techniques, such as drastically reducing the patient’s body temperature, have proven to be effective in revitalizing both the body and mind, but studies show they are only employed in approximately half of the hospitals throughout the United States and Europe.

In Erasing Death, Dr. Sam Parnia presents cutting-edge research from the front line of critical care and resuscitation medicine that has enabled modern doctors to routinely reverse death, while also shedding light on the ultimate mystery: what happens to human consciousness during and after death. Dr. Parnia reveals how medical discoveries focused on saving lives have also inadvertently raised the possibility that some form of “afterlife” maybe uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche in the first few hours after death. Questions about the “self” and the “soul” that were once relegated to theology, philosophy, or evenscience fiction are now being examined afresh according to rigorous scientific research (Dr. Parnia describes patients resuscitated have been able to describe in detail what the doctor was wearing).

With physicians such as Parnia at the forefront, scientists and physicians are on the verge of discovering a new universal science of consciousness that reveals the nature of the mind and a future where death is not the final defeat, but is in fact reversible.

The New York Academy of Sciences – June 22, 2010. Shifting Realities: Myths, Models & Morality
Life, Death & the Pursuit of Morality presents an interesting discussion of Near Death Experience, resuscitation, consciousness, mind, soul, and psyche (41 minute video).

Dr. Sam Parnia, an intensive care doctor and director of resuscitation research at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, studies what people experience in that period after their heart stops and before they’re resuscitated. The experiences include visions of bright lights and out-of-body experiences. Parnia prefers the term “after death” over “after life.”

Excerpt from “Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death” Chapter 1

Amazing Things Are Happening Here

Joe Tiralosi began to feel ill shortly after leaving a Manhattan car wash. He was a little nauseated, somehow off, and was glad his shift had ended. A chauffeur, Tiralosi spent his workdays driving legendary stock trader E. E. “Buzzy” Geduld around New York City. But on this August afternoon in 2009, a few minutes after he had begun his drive home to Brooklyn, he couldn’t stop perspiring. He cranked up the air conditioner in his car, but he continued to sweat profusely.

Tiralosi was a practical man, a married father of two, and not given to panic. So he planned to push through with the rest of his day, figuring his ill feelings would pass. But an hour later, it was unbearable. He called his wife.

Don’t take any chances, she told him. Go to the hospital.

But he couldn’t drive another block. His wife immediately called a coworker, who found Tiralosi pulled over at the corner of Eightieth Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan and rushed him to the emergency room at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Tiralosi was helped into the ER by his coworker. The color had drained from his face. He began explaining to a nurse what was wrong, but before he could finish, he collapsed. A Code Blue, meaning cardiac arrest, was called. Tiralosi’s heart stopped. He was dead.

But fortunately for him, he had died in a hospital where a team of people specially trained in resuscitation was on duty. Doctors and nurses came racing over from every direction and immediately started CPR. They are accomplished professionals whom I have worked with many times, including Dr. Rahul Sharma and Dr. Flavio Gaudio, both very diligent emergency physicians. They were part of the team that lifted Tiralosi onto a gurney, tore open his shirt, and cut off his pants with scissors. They attached the circular electrodes of a defibrillator machine to the skin of his chest. They moved rolling carts lined with medicines into the cramped space around him.

Despite all the modern technology available to them, the medical team also scrambled over him with an everyday item—plastic bags, loaded with ice. They positioned the bags along his sides, under his armpits, and on either side of his neck. They injected his veins with chilled saline. The team did all this in about one minute. His body temperature quickly began to drop. Then they settled into a rhythm: CPR, accompanied by occasional injections of adrenaline and defibrillator shocks.

Joe Tiralosi was now surrounded by some of the best medical personnel, technology, and thinking that modern science has to offer. But he was, with no heartbeat and insufficient oxygen and nutrients feeding the cells of his brain and body, already dead.

Don’t take any chances, his wife said. Go to the hospital. Could these or any other words recur to Tiralosi as he lay flat on the table and slipped further into the process of death? Was he aware of anythingat all? The dominant, scientific view of the brain is that such a thing would be impossible. The gag reflex and other functions of his brain stem had ceased, meaning his brain had stopped functioning entirely. All the conversations he had with his wife were now seemingly lost to him, and the odds were against him ever seeing his family again.

Seconds passed to the steady rhythm of chest compressions. Minutes passed. They stopped compressions and hit Tiralosi’s body with an electric shock. Still, no heartbeat. After ten minutes of continuous chest compressions, the medical and nursing staff was starting to lose hope.

Ten minutes without a heartbeat has long been considered a kind of dividing line in resuscitation science. It has long been thought that after ten minutes without a heartbeat, damage to the brain from a lack of oxygen starts to become permanent. Of course, without a properly functioning brain, Joe Tiralosi would no longer be Joe Tiralosi at all. His memories, his personality, what we might call his “Joeisms” would be gone forever, and only his body would still be here. His wife could hold the hand of the man she had shared her life with, yet they would not really be together.

So ten minutes passed, fifteen minutes passed. Doctors worked well past the old markers; the ticktock rhythm of chest compressions was punctuated by an occasional defibrillator shock.

Twenty minutes.

The call to cease resuscitation attempts in this circumstance belongs to the doctor in charge. But he kept going.

Thirty minutes.

By now, Tiralosi had received thousands of chest compressions and had his heart shocked a half-dozen times. The room was looking more and more like a war zone. Traces of blood and medical debris lay around the gurney. Empty vials of adrenaline littered the floor, like spent gun cartridges on a battlefield. The nurses and doctors providing chest compressions were sweating, consuming their own stored-up energy.

Forty minutes.

Ten years ago, continuing to try and save him at this point would have been considered a tremendous risk — for both Tiralosi and his family. In the best-case scenario, even if Tiralosi’s heartbeat was restored, his mind would be a mess — a CT scan likely revealing multiple small and large plumes of damaged, black spaces where functioning neural cells once held his thoughts. But technology and medical understanding have advanced with the years, and so the doctors pressed on because they knew there was a possibility, however remote, that Tiralosi could be saved and returned to his normal life.

Finally, something incredible happened to break the exhausting monotony — someone screamed with excitement: “I feel a pulse, I think we’ve got him back.” Suddenly, in one moment, all those clouds of despair were replaced by a sense of elation in the room.

The exhausted staff had a new wind of energy and, more important, after having had more than forty-five hundred chest compressions and having his heart shocked with a defibrillator eight times, and being given countless vials of adrenaline, Joe Tiralosi’s heart had started to flicker again.

Ten years ago, a man saved after that length of time would most likely have been a kind of living husk—his body present, his mind gone. But today, Joe Tiralosi is a smiling, vibrant man. His face is long and lean with the shade of a well-groomed mustache and goatee covering his lips and chin. He is back at home with his children and the wife whose advice helped to save him, and back at work, continuing his life. The newspapers and television stations that reported on his resuscitation all called his recovery a miracle. If so, Tiralosi and his family were the beneficiaries of a medical miracle—delivered through medical science.

Deep questions …

Is death a fixed moment? Is reality fixed? Can you be alive and dead at the same time?

Do we have a psyche? Do we have a mind? Do we have a soul? Are the terms different?

Is cardiac arrest the same as a heart attack?

The concept of “Self”

How do you go from a brain cell that makes protein, to a mind that knows hunger, jealousy, behavior? Science doesn’t have a good answer yet. Dr. Sam Parnia is working on it.

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