An Australian schoolteacher involved in a horrific car accident on a Sydney freeway thought she was dead as she tried to call emergency services and ran across the busy road shouting - to no effect. Collapsing near her demolished car, she didn’t feel pain or fear. Instead she felt calm and accepting of her fate although she recalls wishing she’d lived long enough to have a child.
Then, her boyfriend showed up. Someone had called emergency services and she lived to tell the strange tale.
Now, the eerie experience of Rachel Toyer, who shared her near-death encounter with news.com.au, may finally have an explanation thanks to a new study published in the medical journal Resuscitation this week.
The research, led by a group of American scientists and doctors, has dug into claims about near-death experiences in the first study of its kind.
The multi-year study has uncovered evidence that the brainwaves of people in cardiac arrest match with experiences of flashbacks, lucid visions and out-of-body experiences. Observations of more than 500 people experiencing heart attacks where they were close to or technically dead for a time, showed tangible markers of extremely lucid consciousness.
The research’s lead doctor, Sam Parnia, an intensive care doctor and professor at New York University’s Langone Health department of medicine, said his team’s work discovered “... the brain can show signs of electrical recovery long into ongoing CPR.”
While 500 patients were observed for the study, just 53 were successfully resuscitated. Of those, six claimed to have had a near-death experience. Eleven others reported a sense of awareness after their heart had stopped.
The paper details that one patient heard their grandmother’s voice telling them “you need to go back”.
Another claimed they could see themselves standing next to their body in a hospital bed. A third said although they were shrouded in darkness they could feel someone holding their hand.
One reported: “I was no longer in my body. I floated without weight or physicality. I was above my body and directly below the ceiling of the intensive therapy room. I observed the scene that was taking place below me … I, who no longer was the body that had belonged to me just a moment prior, found myself in a position which was … more elevated. It was a place that had nothing to do with any kind of … material experience.”
Parnia and his team concluded in their paper that the study points to a period between life and death where people experience “new dimensions of reality” in which thoughts are sharp and clear with a heightened level of consciousness.
One of the study’s participants told Parnia they felt a “being of light ... looming over me like a great tower of strength” and radiating “warmth and love”. The being showed them parts of their life from the point of view of others.
“I was shown the consequences of my life, thousands of people that I’d interacted with and felt what they felt about me, saw their life and how I had impacted them. Next I saw the consequences of my life and the influence of my actions.”
Toyer told news.com.au her near-death experience was life-changing. Her accident led to a conversation with her then-partner about having children while she could and when he confessed he wasn’t on board, they split up and she went on to have a child by herself through IVF.