Vital Signs

St. Louis Nurse Leads Rare, Prospective Study

We tracked every single code in the hospital for three years—I had it worked out so that every head nurse on every floor would report through the administrative office and record in a logbook at the end of every shift each person who arrested. I also carried a code beeper for those three years, twenty-four hours a day, so I would be alerted to every potential cardiac arrest in the hospital.

The only unit that I had trouble with was the surgical intensive care unit, because their codes did not go through the central paging system. After a number of unsuccessful tries at tracking their codes, we ended up excluding that unit —which was probably good for the study, because then we didn’t have to deal with patients who’d been given anesthesia, with all the issues of memory compromise that involves.

So over three years we tracked a total of 273 codes. I was doing almost all the interviewing and reviewing of medical records, at the end of working a 9- or 10-hour day.

Emergency ‘code’ patients tracked = 273 persons

   From that group, cardiac arrests = 73%

   From that cardiac arrest group, revived persons = 31%

   From that revived group, persons interviewable immediately = 17%

   From that interviewed group, NDEs = 23%

Consequences Six Months Later

Some of the 29 statistically significant differences found in the cardiacarrest survivors who’d had NDE as compared to the non-NDEsurvivors:

   Increased sense of sacredness of life, inner meaning, and purpose of life

   Increased intuitiveness

   Increased understanding of others, ability to listen to others, and
   ability to express love to others

   Increased feelings of self-worth

   Increased tendency to pray

   Increased belief in life after death

   Increased concern with political matters and social justice


VS: Did you think of persuading another nurse to help you with it?
JS: Well, actually, I didn’t. I kind of took it on myself, and felt that once I’d gotten the support of every head nurse and unit to help me track all the codes, that was about as much as I could ask for.

I did consider other types of patients as potential research subjects— those who were hypotensive [very low blood pressure], and those who had respiratory arrest—because they too could very well have had near-death experiences. But in order to make the study as scientifically rigorous as possible, I had to confine it and look only at the near-death experiences of people who had true cardiac arrest. I didn’t have the time nor the manpower to include the others.

Additionally, lots of people started sending me their neardeath experiences when they heard about the project through the media. Many local TV channels had called me for an interview, and several stations then sent their tapes to the national networks.

That’s when I got a little sidetracked dealing with the retrospective* group of individuals. I went back to the Human Studies Committee and asked if I could send this retrospective group the same follow-up form that I had sent to the prospective patients. They approved it. Some of those people had experiences dating back into the 1930s, yet they were still able to


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