Lifestyle / Health

Xanet Scheepers
Acting Lifestyle Editor
3 minute read
23 Nov 2021
1:13 pm

The Lazarus phenomenon: Why some people ‘wake up from the dead’

Xanet Scheepers

'Rising from the dead' is more common than you think.

Picture: iStock

How many times have you read an article in the news about a man or woman who was declared dead only to scare the living daylights out of mortuary personnel when they either sat up in the morgue asking for tea and pancakes, or started breathing just before their autopsy was about to start?

According to Healthline, this very rarely happens and only about 63 cases of Lazarus syndrome – named after Lazarus of the Bible, who was purportedly raised from the dead by Jesus Christ – have been documented in medical journals. However, scientists believe this is actually much more common than studies suggest.

In a 2016 case study of The Lazarus phenomenon, Dr Vaibhav Sahni wrote: “The unassisted return of spontaneous circulation after cardiac arrest is a grossly underreported phenomenon in medical literature which essentially implies the ‘resurrection’ of an individual after cardiac arrest.”

Lazarus syndrome is the term medical professionals use to explain the “miracle” after someone who was declared dead comes back to life.

Medical content research and development physician Dr Nancy Moyer explains that Lazarus syndrome refers to your blood circulation returning spontaneously after your heart stops beating, and fails to restart despite CPR.

When your heart stops beating, blood stops circulating through your blood vessels to your organs and they then begin to fail because they’re not getting any oxygen.

While CPR is successful in restarting a patient’s heart most of the time, there are times when a patient’s heart doesn’t restart immediately. Lazarus syndrome happens when that problem resolves itself shortly after CPR stops and your heart starts beating again.

Earlier this week 45-year-old Srikesh Kumar was declared dead after being involved in a motorcycle accident in Moradabad, east of New Delhi, India.

Six hours later, during a visit to the morgue, his sister-in-law noticed that Kumar was showing signs of life. At this point he had already spent the night in the morgue freezer. He is currently in a coma, receiving treatment.

Rajendra Kumar, the hospital’s medical superintendent told AFP that the emergency medical officer examined Kumar and declared him dead after failing to find any signs of life.

ALSO READ: Indian man found alive after night in morgue freezer

Healthline explains that many people think death occurs as soon as the heart stops beating and a patient stops breathing. However, death is not as simple as that. All your organs, including your brain, need to irreversibly stop before you can be declared dead.

Pronouncing someone dead immediately after stopping CPR leaves the door open for Lazarus syndrome to occur.

It’s unclear what causes this phenomenon, and there are many theories. Some researchers believe the Lazarus phenomenon occurs when air is trapped in a patient’s lungs because of CPR leading to a pressure build-up in the chest.

This pressure then eventually gets so high preventing blood from moving from the chest veins to the heart. When this happens, your heart has trouble pumping blood to your body, which can cause cardiac arrest or prevent your heart from restarting during CPR.

When CPR stops, the trapped air starts to leave the patient’s lungs, reducing pressure in their chest, and blood starts to flow to their heart again. Once blood circulation returns to the rest of the body it can look like your heart restarted itself.

This is why medical professionals recommend observing a person for at least 10 minutes after CPR stops before declaring them dead.

While we don’t know the exact details of Kumar’s medical treatment before being declared dead, an investigation has been launched to look into the circumstances that led him to be declared dead.