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How real are near-death experiences?

SILVER SPRING, Md. (WCIV) -- People who have skirted death sometimes talk about their near-death experiences. At times, the stories sound supernatural, but what some researchers discount as hallucinations are being examined closer by others.

As a result, some scientists now seem convinced the stories may be real.

Ellyn Dye is a professional writer who didn't quite learn the lessons of life until she discovered death.

"There really is more than who we human beings are," she said.

Dye made her life-changing discovery on a drive to the grocery store 30 years ago. Not far from her Maryland home, another driver veered into her path and nearly cost Dye her life.

"I had enough time to think, 'Oh my god, he's--,'" Dye said. "I felt no impact. I felt nothing. And the next thing I knew I was looking down from the top of my car."

Dye was clinically dead and says she watched her own crash scene from a distance. It was the story of an out-of-body-experience that has been told hundreds of times by hundreds of other people.

Dye said there was even a tunnel of light.

"You can see this bright, bright light, but the most important part is you can feel it," Dye recalled. "I saw almost immediately all of my relatives who have passed."

She was even able to communicate with them, Dye said.

"You know, (they told me) how happy they were to see me, and how proud of me they are," she said. "And I really do think that the worst thing we can be is afraid."

Her experience confirmed what she had forever believed -- that life exists even after death.

"I never had a question whether it was real or not. It was real for me," said Jack Dunlavey.

Dunlavey's story starts five years ago when he was knocking on Death's door. A short time after taking his tractor out of the barn, it gave way to the soggy ground and overturned. The 4,000-pound machine landed on Dunlavey's back.

"Instantly I knew I was going to die," he said.

Dunlavey's story then sounds a lot like Dye's. A bright tunnel appeared, and so did familiar faces.

"But when I walked in and floated into that, all my concerns were gone," he said. "As I was in there, I also saw my parents coming toward me."

Scientists have long believed these out-of-body experiences were simply hallucinations, but after studying the stories of more than 2,000 heart attack survivors, some researchers say the experiences may be real.

The study, which is the largest to date, found that more than 40 percent of survivors describe having some form of awareness long after they were declared dead.

"In general, they described seeing lights, getting peaceful, seeing relatives almost as if they were walking them to where they were going," said Dr. Sam Parnia.

But one New York surgeon says there is a scientific explanation for those near-death experiences. For as long as five minutes after the heart stops, neurons are still pumping images through the brain, Parnia said.

"So when we talk about that bright light, that's happening in your occipital lobe," he said.

But science's explanation is not enough for Dunlavey.

"Some people can't comprehend that something like that can happen, but it's getting more common now, so people are starting to listen," Dunlavey said.

For Dye, the research only bolsters what she's known for years.

"It doesn't convince me more that my experience was real -- because it was very real," she said. "I can say I saw all my relatives who have died. They were alive and more alive than they ever were on planet Earth."

Dye says it took death for her to learn to live. Now she leads a support group in Maryland for those who have had near-death experiences.

WBFF's Jeff Abell filed this report from Silver Spring, Md.

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