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Breakfast Saturday, 7 September, 2002, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK
Near death experiences
heart massages
Patients recalled 'near death' experiences
Seeing a bright light and being welcomed into a garden are the stereotypical images of near death episodes - but are they hallucinations or spiritual experiences?

A doctor from Southampton General Hospital has been studying the phenomenon and this morning, Breakfast spoke to him and one of his patients, who had a near death experience.

"I was walking down a tunnel," explained Patrick Tierney, who nearly died when he had a heart attack 11 years ago.

"At the end, there was a dark hole on the left and a bright light on the right.

"Naturally, I went towards the bright light. I remember a picket fence and colours that I have never seen before in my life...it could have been a garden - I'm not sure."

During his experience, Patrick saw his parents, who'd recently died - and his mother in law.

"I wanted to go up to them and give them a hug but my father gave me a look which said 'no' - so I came back here instead."

According to Dr Sam Parnia, Patrick's experiences are not uncommon.

"These seem to occur in around 10 per cent of patients," he told Breakfast.

What makes near death experiences so interesting is that they occur when the brain has been so starved of oxygen that it should not be functioning at all.

Dr Parnia has been studying all aspects of near death experience. So far, he's found no connection between the phenomenon and any drugs or oxygen used for resuscitation, or the levels of carbon dioxide in the body.

Patrick regards the experience as a rehearsal for the real thing. "I am a Roman Catholic," he says."I believe in heaven and hell. This was a dry run."

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