Almost 20 years ago, while kayaking in Chile, a drowning accident left me technically dead for more than 30 minutes. During that time, I had what’s called a near-death experience (NDE), during which I journeyed to Heaven and back.
As a practicing orthopedic surgeon, I’ve spoken publicly and widely about the spiritual and medical implications of my extraordinary experience. Invariably, after I speak, a crowd lines up to talk. And trust me, it’s not because I’m an unusually riveting speaker.
Two things compel people to linger, often for hours: Either they can’t wait to share their own out-of-body experiences, or they desperately need answers about life after death. I remember a mother and daughter who waited out a long line, then stood in front of me…and stood. "We just wanted to look in your eyes," they finally said. "We had to see if what you just said is true."
I get it. We all wonder about what comes next—it’s a quest that drives science, art, and religion. I wrote to share what my NDE taught me, and I’m convinced that what I learned is not just for one kind of believer or unbeliever—it’s for everyone.
When people wait around for answers, certain questions consistently surface. Here are the most common ones.
Will we know each other in heaven? Will we see our loved ones?
My experience delivers a definite "yes." We will know each other after death, and we will absolutely see our loved ones. 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 heaven, my son and all the other people I love who have gone before me will be there waiting.
Was anyone sick or suffering in Heaven?
No. Loved ones who died in illness are restored to health, and those who were crippled in life are 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 during a dream visitation, which I describe in 7 Lessons From Heaven, he was whole, strong, and vibrant.
Do you think loved ones in Heaven 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 in Heaven 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. God is always with us. God always loves us. God’s intentions for us are always good. Those amazing realities can literally change our values and decisions every day. As one who came to faith in adulthood, I had hoped these truths were true, and I nearly always believed that they were. But heaven 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.