Encounters with radiant light: CPR survivors share their experiences

Science and Health

A groundbreaking study recently published in the journal “Resuscitation” unveiled an astonishing revelation—40% of individuals who underwent CPR following a cardiac arrest reported having memories, experiences, visions, dreams, or some form of awareness while unconscious. Additionally, the brain activity of some survivors exhibited signs of consciousness for up to an hour as they were resuscitated.

Dr. Sam Parnia, the lead researcher behind this study and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Hospital, said there is nothing more profound than a cardiac arrest as it teeters on the precipice between life and death. He said up to 40% of individuals undergo some awareness during this critical juncture.

Research included 567 people

This groundbreaking research, conducted collaboratively by scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom, closely monitored 567 patients who had undergone CPR due to cardiac arrest in 25 hospitals. Remarkably, less than 10% of patients typically survive this life-threatening event, making it exceptionally dangerous.

Of the 53 survivors, 28 were available for interviews, and 11 disclosed memories or sensations indicative of their awareness during CPR. The experiences recounted by survivors were remarkably diverse. Some recollected elements of their medical treatment, such as pain, stress, or snippets of conversations among medical professionals. Others recounted dreamlike impressions, such as being in a police chase or stranded in the rain.

Some survivors shared profoundly positive memories, including encounters with a radiant light, traversing a tunnel, or reuniting with a beloved family member. They reported experiencing intense emotions like love, serenity, and tranquility. Conversely, some described a sense of detachment from their bodies and a profound acknowledgment of their demise, while others encountered hallucinations featuring monstrous or faceless figures.

Furthermore, the researchers measured select patients’ brain oxygen levels and electrical activity. They detected gamma, delta, theta, alpha, and beta brainwaves, suggesting varying brain activity during CPR.

Research sheds light on how the brain works

These findings usher in new inquiries about the brain’s inner workings during cardiac arrest, potentially paving the way for innovative treatments for cardiac arrest survivors. 

Parnia said the research suggests that something enigmatic occurs in the brain during cardiac arrest—a realm yet to be fully grasped. This could be pivotal in developing novel therapies for cardiac arrest survivors and gaining deeper insights into the enigma of the human brain at the brink of death.