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The biggest adventure of all – A glimpse into the extraordinary world of near-death experiences.  By Kay Hunter
Those who remember the film A Matter of Life and Death will recall the young airman’s earthly body hovering between life and death while his spiritual body travelled towards heaven on an escalator.

He ultimately arrived in a vast hall where all manner of interesting activities were taking place – even the rehearsing of a Shakespeare play.

That is just one imaginary journey into Eternity. There are other fanciful accounts, but it seems the real thing may be quite different, as we’re told by countless people who have ‘been there’ and returned.

“ ...he entered a pink room. His late father was there, talking to a man “with long scruffy hair and nice eyes”. Tom talked telepathically with his father until the scruffy man said, “He’s got to go back”. ”

These travellers speak of falling through tunnels and arriving in beautiful gardens, being greeted by loved ones who had preceded them into the next world.

The number of people who have had a near-death experience (NDE) must run into many thousands. What is surprising is the similarity of their accounts, which scientists, doctors, sceptics and believers alike have argued about for years.

The latest book on the subject, The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences, published in February, comes from intensive care nurse Penny Sartori, who reveals dramatic evidence which, she claims, should banish our fear of dying.

One of her patients was 60-year-old Tom Kennard, suffering from sepsis after cancer surgery. Having improved and been moved from intensive care, he was well enough to sit in a chair. But he suddenly slumped into unconsciousness. His oxygen levels and blood pressure rapidly dropped to a critical point. The intensive care nurses sprang into action, followed by a doctor and consultant. Tom did not regain consciousness for three hours, during which, as he related later, he felt he had floated upwards to the top of the room. Looking down, he could see his body on the bed. It was all very peaceful and he had no pain.

Then he entered a pink room. His late father was there, talking to a man “with long scruffy hair and nice eyes”. Tom talked telepathically with his father until the scruffy man said, “He’s got to go back.”

Tom became aware that something was touching him. His next memory is of being back in the hospital ward, looking down from a height at Staff Nurse Penny Sartori (pictured page 15) who was trying to clean the inside of his mouth.

Tom said later, “I was floating backwards and went back into my body on the bed.”

“ As J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan predicted, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” It seems he was not wrong. ”

This NDE completely removed any fear Tom had of dying. More extraordinary was the fact that from birth Tom had always had a frozen right hand, fixed in a claw position. After he returned to consciousness the hand opened and flexed quite normally, which should not have been physiologically possible, as the tendons had permanently contracted. Tom had experienced a spontaneous healing.

Another case history was that of Fred, a Swansea pensioner with a terminal heart problem. He was not expected to survive the night, but next morning he had recovered enough to receive a visit from his relatives.

His story was that he had been visited while unconscious by his late mother and grandmother – and his sister who was still living. “I couldn’t understand why my sister was there as well,” he said.

What Fred didn’t know was that his sister had actually passed away the previous week. The news had been kept from him as it was thought it might jeopardise his recovery.

Penny Sartori worked as a staff nurse in intensive care departments for 17 years. During that time she heard so many near-death experiences related to her that in 1995 she began a serious study of the subject and took a PhD.

“I began my study as a cynic,” she says. “But by the time it ended I was convinced that near-death experiences are a genuine phenomenon. At it simplest, it’s a clear and memorable vision that occurs when people are close to death, though only a small percentage of us will have one.

NDE pic

“You don’t need to be old to have a near-death experience”, says Penny. “Evidence suggests that children as young as six months can have lucid visions, and even remember them years later.”

Critical Care magazine cites the case of a six-month-old boy who nearly died in hospital after a serious illness. It was a touch-and-go situation, but he recovered. Three years later the boy was told by his parents the sad news that his grandmother was dying. His immediate question was, “Is she going through the tunnel to meet God?” He obviously remembered his own experience at the age of six months.

Tom, the four-year-old son of a British soldier, had complained of stomach pains. He was in agony when it was discovered that he had an intestinal blockage. An immediate operation was performed, which was “touch and go” as his father told Penny Sartori.

Some months later Tom was being taken out for the day and was asked where he would like to go. He said he would like to go to “that park” again. He was asked which park he meant.

His reply was: “The one through the tunnel that I went to when I was in hospital. There was a park with lots of children and swings and things, with a white fence round it. I tried to climb over the fence, but a man stopped me and said I wasn’t to come yet. He sent me back down the tunnel and I was back in the hospital bed.”

Researcher Dr Phyllis Marie Atwater has collected hundreds of cases of childhood NDEs. According to Dr Atwater’s vast database, child survivors are likely to have long-lasting relationships when they are older, while those who have NDEs as adults have a higher divorce rate.

She also found that they considered themselves to be spiritual, their spirituality often quite separate from the religion in which they had been brought up.

In a few cases, church ministers had complained that children who had experienced NDEs were disruptive because they had asked questions clerics had been unable to answer.

Dr Penny Sartori

Some scientists and medical experts continue to produce theories that NDEs are due to the effects of certain drugs, or to the brain being starved of oxygen.

They have even attributed stories to attention-seekers who have invented their own NDE experiences, having heard others’ and not wishing to be outdone.

As J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan predicted, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” It seems he was not wrong.

The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences by Dr Penny Sartori (pictured left) was published on 6th February by Watkins Publishing, priced £10.99.


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