I'm A Doctor Who Had A Near-Death Experience. Here's What I Saw On The Other Side
Almost 20 years ago, while kayaking in Chile, a drowning accident left me technically dead for more than 30 minutes. As a practicing orthopedic surgeon, I’ve spoken publicly and widely about the spiritual and medical implications of my near-death experience. Invariably, after I speak, a crowd lines up to talk. And trust me, it’s not because I’m an unusually riveting speaker.
When people wait around for answers, certain questions consistently surface. Here are the most common ones, and how I answer them based on my own experience.
Did you see your departed loved ones?
In my experience, this is a definite "yes." Soon after leaving my body, I was greeted by a group of beings who were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. This may sound strange, but I felt nothing but peace and happiness in their company. I have experienced the deep pain of losing people I dearly love, and it is a great comfort to me to know that when I next return to what I think of as heaven, my son and all the other people I love who have gone before me will be there waiting.
Was anyone sick or suffering?
No. The loved ones I saw who died in illness were restored to health, and those who were crippled in life had restored to strength. I can’t begin to tell you how important this fact is for me personally. My son’s body was mangled after he was struck by the car of a young man who was driving distractedly. But when I subsequently saw him, he was whole, strong, and vibrant.
Do you think loved ones who have passed away can see us here on Earth?
I believe the answer is yes. When I was separated from my physical body, I was simultaneously aware of what was happening up above and what was unfolding on the riverbank where I had drowned. I thought about my husband and my children, my parents and siblings (and not at all about my work or other earthly worries).
As I thought of each one, I was able to empathetically be a part of them, transferring a feeling that everything is "fine." It was as if a part of my spirit traveled to wherever they were at that moment to pass on an awareness of contentment to their psyche.
What was your biggest surprise?
As a medical professional, I can tell you I was surprised—and deeply reassured—to find that spirituality and science are never in conflict. I was surprised, too, by my utter serenity as life left my body and even more so by my lack of desire to return to Earth.
But I was most astonished by the discovery that God’s promises are actually, amazingly, and abundantly true. As one who came to religion in adulthood, I had hoped these truths were true, and I nearly always believed that they were. But my experience taught me that we can move beyond hope and belief to something much better and more powerful. We can live with absolute trust.
And that can change how you and I live right here on Earth.
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Mary C. Neal, M.D. is an orthopaedic surgeon. She studied at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, completed her orthopaedic residency at the University of Southern California and is fellowship trained as a spinal surgeon. She is the former Director of Spine Surgery at the University of Southern California and is a founding partner of Orthopedic Associates of Jackson Hole. Her after-life experience has been featured on national media and in her New York Times best-selling book, 7 Lessons From Heaven. Dr. Neal lives with her family in Jackson Hole, WY.