The May 7, 2007 issue of Newsweek magazine contained an article that presents research findings regarding what happens to heart cells after a severe heart attack when the heart stops beating (cardiac arrest). The article states the reaction of researchers when they looked at these cells under the microscope. “What they saw amazed them, according to Dr. Lance Becker, an authority on emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘After one hour,’ he says, ‘we couldn't see evidence the cells had died. We thought we'd done something wrong.’ In fact, cells cut off from their blood supply died only hours later.” The traditional expectation was that irreversible damage would normally have begun after four or five minutes.
You can read the full article at: http://www.newsweek.com/id/32982 .
How does this new research relate to NDEs? If future research can show that other cells, such as brain cells, can survive and function one hour after they are cut off from blood flow and deprived of oxygen, the implications are that consciousness may continue and be supported by functioning brain cells well after the heart stops beating. This will fuel speculation that NDEs have a physiological basis.
NDE researcher and former IANDS Board member Dr. Jeffrey Long cautions against this approach. ” It has long been known that heart and related muscle cells can maintain some form of functionality long after the blood flow is cut off. Brain cells cannot. The brain is actually far more susceptible to a lack of blood flow than most other body tissues due at least in part to its high metabolic activity. After about 4-5 minutes without blood flow to the brain, the brain starts to become irreversibly damaged. The damage is increasingly severe with increasingly longer intervals of absent blood flow. In addition, EEG measurements (measure of brain electrical activity) go flat about 10 seconds after a cardiac arrest, suggesting there is no measurable electrical activity in the brain, at least in the outer, cortical structures of the brain. This observation suggests that it is physiologically impossible to have a lucid conscious experience around 10 seconds or more after a cardiac arrest, even if future research shows some type of cell function could be restored later.”Dr. Long continues on the subject of caring for near-death experiencers. “As the article states, this early research might lead to new techniques that result in a higher percentage of cardiac arrest patients being resuscitated than was possible in the past. In that case, we would expect a larger number of NDEs in the survivors since recent hospital based studies show that approximately 12-15% of cardiac arrest patients who are resuscitated report NDEs.” If during the coming years these new resuscitation techniques are confirmed as beneficial and become more widely used, the number of patients reporting NDEs could increase significantly. The urgency of educating medical professionals about NDEs will become even more acute than it is today.