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Eben Alexander's Near-Death Experience: How an Esquire Article Distorted the Facts

Authors:
  • International Association for Near-Death Studies

Abstract

In July, 2013, journalist Luke Dittrich wrote an article in Esquire magazine critical of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander's 2012 book Proof of Heaven. Dittrich cited several malpractice lawsuits against Alexander, in one of which Alexander allegedly had altered medical records to cover his errors. Dittrich made this allegation his theme for critiquing the story of Alexander's NDE: that Alexander altered the facts of his story to make them more dramatic. In particular , Dittrich questioned the central premise of the book: that Alexander's experience was the result of a brain all but destroyed by meningitis. He contended that Alexander's hyperreal experience of the heavenly Gateway Realm with the beautiful girl on the butterfly wing and the knowledge he gained from The Core were all hallucinations resulting from a medically induced coma and that Alex-ander stood to gain financially by representing his experience as genuine. In this article, I critique Dittrich's article point by point and uncover a pattern of inaccuracy and misrepresentation of facts on Dittrich's part. I conclude that it was Dittrich's work, rather than Alexander's, that was erroneous.
65
Journal of Near-D eath Studi es, 35(2), Winter 2016 © 2016 IAND S
DOI : 10.17514/JND S-2016- 35-2- p65 -93 .
Robert G. Mays, B Sc, is a retired senior software engineer. He and his wife,
Suzanne B. Mays, have studied near- death phenomena for more than 40 years ( http://
selfconsciousmind.com). Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to
Mr. Mays at 5622 Brisbane Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27514; e- mail: mays@ieee.org.
GUEST EDITORIAL
Eben Alexanders Near- Death Experience:
How an
Esquire
Article Distorted the
Facts
Robert G. Mays, BSc
Chapel Hill, NC
ABSTRACT: In July, 2013, journalist Luke Dittrich wrote an article in Esquire
magazine critical of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s 2012 book Proof of Heaven.
Dittrich cited several malpractice lawsuits against Alexander, in one of which
Alexander allegedly had altered medical records to cover his errors. Dittrich
made this allegation his theme for critiquing the story of Alexander’s NDE: that
Alexander altered the facts of his story to make them more dramatic. In particu-
lar, Dittrich questioned the central premise of the book: that Alexander’s expe-
rience was the result of a brain all but destroyed by meningitis. He contended
that Alexander’s hyperreal experience of the heavenly Gateway Realm with the
beautiful girl on the buttery wing and the knowledge he gained from The Core
were all hallucinations resulting from a medically induced coma and that Alex-
ander stood to gain nancially by representing his experience as genuine. In this
article, I critique Dittrich’s article point by point and uncover a pattern of inac-
curacy and misrepresentation of facts on Dittrich’s part. I conclude that it was
Dittrich’s work, rather than Alexander’s, that was erroneous.
KEY WORDS: near- death experience, Eben Alexander, media, journalistic
integrity
The principles of journalistic professionalism and objectivity include
the adherence to factuality; impartial, fair, and balanced treatment;
and avoidance of bias and partisanship. In reporting accurate infor-
mation to the public, the duty of reporters and journalists is to ensure
that the information is correct (Society of Professional Journalists,
2014). Accurate information critical to a report needs to be veried and
conrmed by multiple sources. Whenever possible, an author should
66 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
pursue all possible avenues of conrmation; any contradictory or con-
icting information should be disclosed to provide a balanced account.
When reporting a controversial issue— for example, the meaning and
cause of near- death experiences (NDEs)— authors should provide at
least mention, if not adequate treatment, of opposing viewpoints.
Unfortunately, in news reports, popular commentaries, and profes-
sional publications, authors have frequently presented NDEs solely
from the viewpoint that NDEs are merely hallucinations caused by
brain dysfunction (Blackmore, 1993; Woerlee, 2005) or are confabula-
tions developed either deliberately through fraud or embellishment or
unconsciously through “conrmation bias”— recalling or interpreting
information only that conrms one’s preexisting beliefs. The conclu-
sion is that these experiences are not real and readers should not con-
sider them to be any indication of transcendent realms or the afterlife.
The authors of these one- sided articles generally do not look at all
of the evidence from NDE research and rarely consider alternative
explanations in any depth— despite the availability of publications by
careful scholars who have demonstrated the inadequacy of attempts to
explain all aspects of NDEs through physical processes (Rivas et al.,
2016). Luke Dittrich’s article in Esquire magazine is a prime example
of how such unbalanced commentaries perpetuate misinformation to
the public about what are, in fact, profound life- altering subjective
experiences.
Dittrich is an award- winning writer and a contributing editor at
Esquire magazine. His long article The Prophet” appeared in the
July 2, 2013, issue of Esquire. In it, Dittrich (2013) tried to show that
Eben Alexander’s account of his NDE (Alexander, 2012a) had numer-
ous embellishments and fabrications, pointing out three critical de-
tails of the story with allegedly serious factual errors. Dittrich also
pointed to Alexander’s apparent record as a neurosurgeon with nu-
merous malpractice lawsuits— including a case of altering a patient’s
records allegedly to cover a medical error— and being forced out of
multiple jobs in neurosurgery.
Dittrich further reported that even His Holiness the Dalai Lama
had seen through Alexander’s “extraordinary claims” and all but
declared him a liar (Dittrich, 2013, p. 127). So Dittrich concluded
that Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven featuring a beautiful girl on
a buttery wing— was fabricated out of hallucinations produced by
a drug- induced coma to enable Alexander to elevate himself from a
failed neurosurgeon to the new “Prophet of Heaven.”
Dittrich’s article presented a well- crafted case, one that David
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 67
Granger, Esquire’s Editor- in- Chief, called “great journalism” in a pro-
motional ad on the Esquire web site when the article was published.
However, on closer examination, I found that the alleged facts in the
article do not stand up to scrutiny. In this article, I present these al-
leged facts point by point and, in each case, present evidence that con-
tradicts them. In particular, it appears that Dittrich engaged in his
own fabrication by taking statements by one of Alexander’s physicians
out of context to develop his central thesis of the drug- induced coma.
Rather than “great journalism,” Dittrich’s article appears to be quite
the opposite.
Background of This Article
Shortly after the Esquire article appeared, I called several sources
cited by Dittrich for conrmation. On August 12, 2013, I published an
online version of the present article on the International Association
for Near- Death Studies (IANDS) web site (Mays, 2013) and revised
it with minor changes on August 14. During this time, I called Laura
Potter, Alexander’s admitting physician and a key witness in this case,
several times for conrmation of her written statement contradicting
Dittrich’s interpretation of her statements to him, but she did not re-
spond to my calls. On August 15, at Potter’s request, as communicated
by a Lynchburg General Hospital spokesperson, I revised the article
to remove her written statement.
During August 14 and 15, summaries of several points in my article
appeared in several online blogs and were mentioned in various online
discussion forums— for example, on the Skeptiko.com forum moder-
ated by Alex Tsakiris (2013, August 14). In this forum, Tsakiris wrote
that he had sent an email to Matt Goulet, assistant to Granger, ask-
ing whether Granger or Dittrich had responded to the claims in my
article, particularly Potter’s written statement. Also on August 14,
Tsakiris “pinged” Dittrich’s Twitter account about the article, asking
for an interview. Tsakiris also extended an invitation to interview me
on Skeptiko (Tsakiris, 2013, August 27). On August 15, Tsakiris an-
nounced on the forum that Dittrich had responded and had declined
to be interviewed.
After four years, I am motivated to publish a revision of my article
for three reasons. First, the distorted facts and conclusions from Ditt-
rich’s article continue to be repeated, including in scholarly analyses
of NDEs (for example, Fischer & Mitchell- Yellin, 2016, p. 178). Second,
it is important to include Potter’s verbatim statement for the record,
68 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
despite her request four years ago to the contrary. Finally, additional
information surrounding Alexander’s NDE warrants inclusion in the
article.
This article will be most meaningful to readers familiar with Al-
exander’s NDE. For those unfamiliar, I recommend rst reading the
nal sections of this article, beginning with “A Genuine Near- Death
Experience,” as well as Susan Varhely’s 2012 book review in this
Journal.
Three Alleged Flaws in Alexander’s Story
and Response
Dittrich pointed out three key places in Alexander’s (2012a) account of
his experience that failed conrmation when Dittrich checked them: a
rainbow heralding Alexander’s return that could not have been seen,
a shout for help noted by everyone present that could not have been
uttered, and, most damning of all, the assertion of a hyperreal expe-
rience of incredible beauty, love, and wisdom that could not have oc-
curred in a medically induced coma. The rst two aws could perhaps
be excused by the pressure to produce a dramatic story, one that would
generate interest and sell well, taking, as Alexander admitted, some
“artistic license” (Dittrich, 2013, p. 126). Indeed, the question whether
Alexander’s relatives saw a rainbow has bearing only on Alexander’s
possible use of embellishment, not on his experience in coma.
But the last aw would be fatal, because Alexander’s (2012a) cen-
tral assertion was that his experience occurred during a weeklong
coma brought on by severe bacterial meningitis. That central assertion
was directly contradicted by Emergency Room (ER) physician Potter’s
statement that Alexander’s state would be considered “conscious but
delirious.” Alexander’s medical records are all condential. Even with
Alexander’s permission, his doctors refused to be interviewed, except
for Potter. So all Dittrich had to go on were Potter’s statements and
Alexander’s assertions. Dittrich felt that Alexander’s alleged history
of altering medical records to achieve a desired result called into ques-
tion everything he would assert about his medical condition. Indeed,
as we shall see, Potter’s statements appeared pretty damning, so it is
important to understand fully the nature of Alexander’s coma.
In response to Dittrich’s exposé, Alexander issued the following
statement:
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 69
I wrote a truthful account of my experiences in Proof of Heaven and
have acknowledged in the book both my professional and personal ac-
complishments and my setbacks. I stand by every word in this book
and have made its message the purpose of my life. Esquire’s cynical
article distorts the facts of my 25- year career as a neurosurgeon and is
a textbook example of how unsupported assertions and cherry- picked
information can be assembled at the expense of the truth (quoted in
Bercovici, 2013, July 2).
The Rainbow That Allegedly Could Not
Have Been Witnessed
On Sunday morning, November 16, 2008, after several days of relent-
less rain, the rain stopped. Alexander was coming out of his coma. His
sister, Phyllis, and their 87- year- old mother, Betty, were on their way
into the hospital, with Betty in a wheelchair, when they saw a “perfect
rainbow” toward the distant peaks. Dittrich commented, “It was as
though heaven itself was cheering Alexander’s return.”
Only, according to Dittrich (2013), that phenomenon could not have
happened. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteo-
rologist Dave Wert checked the weather records for the 16th: It was a
clear day. Could there have been a rainbow the morning of the 16th?
“No,” Wert said (2013, p. 125).
Dittrich (2013) left the reader to conclude that this account was an
open- and- shut case of embellishment, part of a pattern of behavior
Dittrich had developed about Alexander in the article. Of course, the
rainbow was not observed by Alexander himself, because he was just
coming out of coma. Either Alexander was told this purported fact by
Phyllis or he just made it up to give a nice twist to the story.
Dittrich apparently did not feel the need to investigate further. He
considered the meteorologist’s pronouncement denitive: No rainbow
would have been possible on that morning. Therefore, it must have
been a fabrication by Alexander.
In fact, if Dittrich had interviewed Phyllis, as I have done, she would
have told him: She and her mother saw a rainbow as they were enter-
ing the hospital about 1:00 p.m. It was to the right of the entrance—
north of the hospital— where there are mountains. They commented
on the rainbow, and Betty noted, “It’s a perfect rainbow!” When they
turned the corner into Alexander’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room a
few moments later, he was sitting up in bed. Later that day, Phyllis
emailed friends back in Boston, telling them about Alexander’s mi-
70 JOURNA L OF N EAR-DEATH STUDIES
raculous recovery— and about the rainbow she and her mother had
witnessed. She offered to show me the email (P. Alexander, personal
communication, August 5, 2013).
It is difcult to reconcile a two- person eyewitness account with con-
temporaneous corroborative documentation and an expert meteorolo-
gist’s naysaying pronouncement. Perhaps Phyllis and her mother were
mistaken. “No,” Phyllis replied, “we both saw it. If I’d known Id be ‘on
trial’ about it later, I would have taken a picture of it” (P. Alexander,
personal communication, August 5, 2013).
An ordinary rainbow— one following a rainstorm— would be very
unusual on an apparently clear day at 1:00 p.m. in November. How-
ever, there are many ways for a rainbow to occur. In any case, Phyllis
and Betty clearly saw a rainbow on that Sunday morning when Al-
exander came out of coma. Phyllis conrmed to me that she told him
about it later. He did not fabricate the story or embellish the details,
as Dittrich (2013) implied he had.
Fact checking in this case would have been easy; Phyllis was only
one phone call away, as she was when I phoned her on August 5, 2013.
Considering that Dittrich (2013) was calling into question a man’s in-
tegrity and honesty, he should have investigated his allegation fur-
ther, corroborating with relevant sources to get to the bottom of the
seeming contradiction.
The Shout for Help That Allegedly Could Not
Have Been Uttered
In one of the book’s most dramatic scenes, Alexander described how
he had come to learn that physician Potter prepared to move him
from the ER to the ICU (2012a, p. 24). In those nal moments, af-
ter two straight hours of struggle— thrashing and guttural groans
and wails— Alexander grew quiet and then shouted out, for everyone
present to hear, “God, help me!” The doctors, nurses, his wife Holley,
and his neighbor Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal rector, rushed to his
stretcher, but Alexander remained completely unresponsive.
Dramatic— but, according to Dittrich, it could not have happened.
He reported that Potter had no recollection of the incident, although
she did remember that she intubated Alexander more than an hour
before his departure from the ER. Could he have shouted anything,
let alone something clearly heard, asked Dittrich. He quoted Potter as
replying, “No” (p. 126).
For Dittrich, this was another clearly open- and- shut case of embel-
lishment or fabrication. Of course, at the time Alexander was in a
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 71
coma, so either he was told this purported fact by Holley or someone
else or he just made it up to give another dramatic, emotional twist to
th e stor y.
Again, Dittrich appears not to have investigated further. The facts
Potter gave seemed crystal clear and made complete sense: The intu-
bation would almost certainly have been done in the ER, and Alex-
ander’s status would have been stabilized before transfer to the ICU.
Based on the fact that a person cannot vocalize while intubated, Ditt-
rich left the reader to conclude that the shout must have been another
fabrication by Alexander.
In fact, if Dittrich had asked Holley, she would have conrmed the
story: Indeed, at some time in the ER, Alexander had shouted out
“God, help me!” Holley heard him from just outside the curtain, and
everyone present, including Holley and Sullivan, had rushed to his
side, but Alexander fell back unresponsive. Those present were given
hope that he was recovering, but these hopes faded quickly.
I spoke with Holley Alexander on August 7, 2013. She said that this
incident occurred about an hour or so after she had arrived in the ER
with Eben. She told me,
It happened before they sedated him, while the doctors were trying to
get vital signs and spinal uid and all that. I said to Michael [Sulli-
van], ‘He spoke!’ and Eben kept writhing. Potter might not have heard
it. She was in and out, checking scans, spinal uid, so it’s very likely
that she wasn’t there.
And yes, this happened before Alexander was intubated, so his only
embellishment was to fudge the timing of the incident, perhaps for
dramatic effect— a trivial adjustment, or a minor error, as Alexander
was reporting an incident that he did not recall but that others had
much later reported to him.
During the many hours Dittrich spent talking to Alexander in his
home, he could easily have asked Holley, who was present the entire
time, about this incident. He did not. Perhaps Dittrich suspected col-
lusion between Eben and Holley, so he would not have considered her
account of the facts to be reliable. Still he could have talked to their
neighbor and Episcopal rector Sullivan. Again, he did not (H. Alexan-
der, personal communication, August 7, 2013).
Further investigation has now revealed that two of the three key
aws in Alexander’s story have turned out to be trivial. But it is not
trivial that Dittrich relied on these apparent inconsistencies to build
a case that Alexander’s story was a complete fabrication, a hallucina-
tion, a fantasy.
All it would have taken was a simple conversation with two of the
72 JOURNA L OF NEAR-DEATH STUDIES
people identied in Proof of Heaven as witnesses to corroborate or re-
fute Alexander’s account. In both cases, Dittrich would have found
complete corroboration of Alexander’s portrayal of the rainbow and
nearly complete corroboration of the shout in the ER.
The Hyperreal Experience That Allegedly Could Not
Have Occurred in a Medically Induced Coma
Dittrich’s interpretation of Proof of Heaven hinges most on the ques-
tion of coma. Coma is a state of unconsciousness lasting more than
six hours in which a person: cannot be awakened; fails to respond
normally to painful stimuli, light, or sound; lacks a normal sleep- wake
cycle; and does not initiate voluntary actions. In order to maintain
consciousness, a person needs to have a perfectly functioning cerebral
cortex and brainstem (Laureys & Tononi, 2009, p. 18).
According to his own account, Alexander was not conscious dur-
ing any of his stay in the hospital: He lost consciousness at home on
Monday around 8:00 a.m., shortly after shouting to his son, “Have a
good day at school,” and remained unconscious until he awoke the next
Sunday morning around 9:00 a.m. (Alexander, 2012a, p. 16).
Alexander had developed a severe case of bacterial meningitis. In
his book, Alexander (2012a) cited several measures indicated the seri-
ousness of his condition: the very quick onset of his symptoms, persis-
tent seizure (status epilepticus), the presence of E. coli bacteria in his
cerebral spinal uid (CSF), the high white blood cell count and high
protein level in his CSF, the very low glucose level in his CSF, and the
CT scans of his brain that showed diffuse edema, damage in all eight
lobes of his cortex and, widespread blurring of the gray- white mat-
ter junction. In addition, several specic neurological exams showed
severe alterations: abnormal posturing indicating damage to the cor-
tex and thalamus, orid papilledema indicating elevated intracranial
pressure, xed pupils indicating brainstem damage, and no vestibulo-
ocular reex also indicating brainstem damage. Alexander’s motor
response declined further to “no motor response to noxious stimuli,”
indicating widespread cortical and brainstem damage.
Yes, Alexander’s medical records remain condential. But Alex-
ander (2012b) published these results in an article, “My Experience
in Coma,” in the quarterly newsletter of the American Association of
Neurological Surgeons and also released these results for a podcast
interview on Skeptiko.com (Tsakiris, 2012). Dittrich surely had access
to both sources.
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 73
The most important indicator of Alexander’s coma state was his
Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS; Alexander, 2012a, p. 25). GCS scores range
from 15 (fully conscious) to 3 (deep coma). A score of 8 Alexander’s
repor ted score upon hospital admission is below the midpoint and in-
dicates “severe brain injury” and a state of coma (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, 2016).
But Dittrich (2013) focused on the fact that Alexander was groan-
ing and ailing about and had to be placed in a chemically induced
coma. Dittrich recounted how Potter described it:
“We couldn’t work with Eben at all, we couldn’t get vital signs, he just
was not able to comply. So I had to make the decision to just place him
in a chemically induced coma [emphasis added]. Really for his own
safety, until we could treat him. And so I did. . . . I put him to sleep, if
you will, and put him on life support.”
After Alexander was taken from the ER to the ICU, Potter says,
the doctors there administered anesthetics that kept him in the coma.
The next day, she went to visit him. “And of course he was still in an
induced coma [emphasis added], she says. “On ventilator support.
They tried to let him wake up and see what he would do, but he was in
exactly the same agitated state. Even if they tried to ease up, a little
bit even, on the sedation. In fact, for days, every time they would try
to wean his sedation— just thrashing, trying to scream, and grabbing
at his tube.” (p. 125)
On the basis of these statements, Dittrich concluded that Alexan-
der’s coma was induced and maintained solely by anesthetics:
In Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes that he spent seven days in “a
coma caused by a rare case of E. coli bacterial meningitis.” There is
no indication in the book that it was Laura Potter, and not bacterial
meningitis, that induced his coma, or that the physicians in the ICU
maintained his coma in the days that followed through the use of an-
esthetics [emphasis added]. (p. 125)
This point goes to the heart of Alexander’s story, because according to
Alexander, he did not have a working brain, and, therefore, his memo-
ries could not have been hallucinations. Dittrich continued:
[Alexander] notes that by conventional scientic understanding, “if
you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious,” and a key
point of his argument for the reality of the realms he claims to have
visited is that his memories could not have been hallucinations, since
he didn’t possess a brain capable of creating even a hallucinatory con-
scious experience [emphasis added]. (pp. 125–126)
Dittrich then posed the key question, whether Alexander was con-
scious during his stay in the hospital:
74 JOURNAL OF NEA R-DEATH STU DIES
I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhib-
ited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his rst
days of coma would meet her denition of conscious.
“Yes,” she says. “Conscious but delirious” [emphasis added]. (p. 126)
For Dittrich (2013), Potter’s statement is conclusive proof that Alex-
ander was conscious, although severely sick, and was maintained in a
medically induced coma solely by administration of anesthetics. And
Alexander failed to disclose that key fact in his book.
Dittrich again left the reader to conclude that Alexander had cov-
ered up the real reason for his coma— the administration of the seda-
tive diazepam to control his thrashing movements, initially so the
lumbar puncture could be performed in the ER and later to control the
thrashing in the ICU. The administration of the sedative would ac-
count for Alexander’s experiences of the “heavenly realms” as merely
drug- induced hallucinations. Dittrich led the reader to conclude that
the entire account in Proof of Heaven was part of a pattern of decep-
tion Alexander allegedly showed throughout his medical career.
Once again, Dittrich apparently did not feel the need to investigate
further. There was no need for corroboration, no need to check with
other experts about all the indications that Alexander’s brain was se-
verely damaged by the bacterial infection. After all, the experts were
not there in the ER and the ICU. And the other doctors who were in-
volved with Alexander’s case refused to be interviewed. The one doctor
who was present was certainly suf cient. And the other doctors would
undoubtedly corroborate Potter’s assessment.
Dittrich also apparently did not feel the need to consider the over-
whelming evidence for severe meningitis. The data all came directly
from Alexander, who could easily have exaggerated, embellished, or
even fabricated them— a very good reason for Alexander to insist that
his medical records be kept condential.
Apparently, neither Dittrich nor his editors were at all concerned
that the very heart of their portrayal of Alexander as a fraud was
based on the sole assessment of one doctor. Apparently, they were not
concerned that Dittrich might have misheard Potter or possibly mis-
interpreted what she had told him.
Members of the Alexander family circle told me that Potter ex-
pressed to them deep concern when the Esquire article rst appeared
and she was subsequently contacted by the press. She was alarmed
about the way her remarks had been twisted in the Esquire article.
She told them that Dittrich had not rechecked with her and had not
shown her how he was going to quote her.
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 75
Through Lynchburg General Hospital, Potter issued the following
statement to the Associated Press and to Simon & Schuster, shortly
after the Esquire ar ticle appeared. The statement was never published
by the Associated Press (personal communications, P. Alexander, Au-
gust 5, 2013; Priscilla Painton of Simon & Schuster, August 15, 2013):
I am saddened by and gravely disappointed by the article recently
published in Esquire. The content attributed to me is both out of con-
text and does not accurately portray the events around Dr. Eben Alex-
ander’s hospitalization. I felt my side of the story was misrepresented
by the reporter. I believe Dr. Alexander has made every attempt to be
factual in his accounting of events.— Dr. Laura Potter
So, according to Potter’s statement, Dittrich’s portrayal of the events
regarding Alexander’s illness is inaccurate. Dittrich took Potter’s
statements out of context, twisted them, and misrepresented them.
Furthermore, Potter afrmed that Alexander’s account of the medical
facts of his case was accurate.
The facts regarding Alexander’s coma state are pretty clear. Had
Dittrich read Proof of Heaven with any ca re, he would have found a de-
nitive statement of the facts about Alexander’s coma in Appendix A,
from infectious disease specialist Scott Wade, the lead physician on
Alexander’s case:
Dr. Alexander had become ill quickly with u- like symptoms, back
pain, and a headache. He was promptly transported to the Emer-
gency Room, where he had a CT scan of his head and then a lumbar
puncture with spinal uid suggesting a gram- negative meningitis. He
was immediately begun on intravenous antibiotics targeting that and
placed on a ventilator machine because of his critical condition and
coma [emphasis added]. . . . Despite prompt and aggressive antibiotic
treatment for his E. coli meningitis as well as continued care in the
medical intensive care unit, he remained in a coma six days [emphasis
added] and hope for a quick recovery faded (mortality over 97 per-
cent). (Alexander, 2012a, p. 183)
Apparently, Dittrich did not read this part of Proof of Heaven. Wade
stated clearly that Alexander was in a coma in the ER and that he
remained in a coma for six days. Had the coma been due to adminis-
tering sedatives, Alexander would not have been assessed with severe
brain injury (GCS 8) on admission, prior to the administration of seda-
tives. Wade’s clear implication was that Alexander’s presenting and
prolonged coma and critical condition were the result of the meningitis
rather than any treatment the medical team had administered.
So the heart of Dittrich’s (2013) portrayal of Alexander’s condition
76 JOURNA L OF NEA R-DEATH STUDIES
is a fabrication, based on a misrepresentation of Potter’s statements
to him. In light of Dittrich’s inaccurate portrayal, it would be instruc-
tive to review the full recording of the interview— assuming that he
recorded his interviews with Potter— to understand the full context
in which Dittrich asked Potter whether Alexander’s manic, agitated
state during his rst days of coma could be considered conscious and
she responded, Yes, conscious but delirious.Dittrich may have led
Potter into making this and other statements.
In the face of the other doctors’ refusal to be interviewed, Dittrich
could have conrmed the doctors’ assessment of Alexander’s case with
other witnesses, for example, Holley or Holley’s friend Sylvia White.
Had he checked with White, she would have told him (personal com-
munication, August 5, 2013):
I sat with [Alexander’s] wife Holley [on Sunday morning] as the doctor
showed us the scans and when he told Holley to call her family. He
told her that Eben could not survive and that, even if he did, he would
be irreparably damaged; in fact, he would be in a vegetative state, one
that would require ongoing care at a nursing home. Such observa-
tions reected the ongoing meningitis- induced coma and the dismal
neurological prognosis, not recommendations that would be made for
a patient simply in a “drug- induced coma.”
Dittrich (2013) also made no mention of having consulted with medi-
cal experts— who would have told him that the evidence from the
available medical data from Proof of Heaven and the other sources
cited earlier (Alexander, 2012b; Tsakiris, 2012) indicated coma caused
by severe damage to the cortex and brainstem that likely would result
in death.
Alexander (2012a) reported that his body had exhibited status epi-
lepticus, or persistent seizu res. About an hour af ter Alexander arrived
at the ER, Potter administered 15 milligrams of diazepam (Alexan-
der, 2012a, p. 18) to calm Alexander down and later more sedatives
to enable a lumbar puncture (Alexander, 2012a, p. 21). The sedatives
calmed the neural activity and, thereby, reduced or eliminated the
thrashing. It is likely that at some later time, a “tonic phase” of seizure
started again with the reexive verbal outburst of “God, help me!” It
is possible that Alexander was briey in a semi- conscious, confusional
state at this point, which would explain the clarity of his utterance,
but he has reported having no memory of saying it.
Taking into account all of the above evidence, a more accurate ac-
counting of events, including the nature of the coma, is as follows.
Alexander’s coma and seizures were brought on by the onslaught of
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 77
the bacterial meningitis infection that spread very rapidly through his
cerebral spinal uid. The bacteria attacked the entire outer surface of
his brain including the neocortex, the limbic system including the hip-
pocampus, as well as the brainstem. This attack brought on Alexan-
der’s subjective experience of loss of memory, language, identity, and
consciousness. The attack also induced wild neuronal uctuations in
his cortex and other regions, which resulted in the persistent seizures.
Alexander was in a meningitis- induced coma hours before the seda-
tives were administered. The sedatives were administered to control
the seizures.
Contrary to Dittrich’s assertion, Alexander did disclose the use of
sedatives in a “chemically induced coma.” Alexander reported that
even after about four days of treatment when the sedating medications
were stopped, he remained in a meningitis- induced coma:
At times, early in the week, I would move. My body would thrash
around wildly [emphasis added]. A nurse would rub my head and give
me more sedation [emphasis added], and eventually I’d become quiet
again . . . By the end of the week these occasional bursts of motor ac-
tivity had all but ceased. I needed no more sedation [emphasis added],
because movement— even the dead, automatic kind initiated by the
most primitive reex loops of my lower brainstem and spinal cord—
had dwindled almost to nil.” (Alexander, 2012a, p. 92)
One has to wonder how carefully Dittrich read Proof of Heaven to be
able to say,
There is no indication in the book that it was Laura Potter, and not
bacterial meningitis, that induced his coma [cf. pp. 18 & 21], or that
the physicians in the ICU maintained his coma in the days that fol-
lowed through the use of anesthetics [cf. p. 92]. (p. 125)
Dittrich clearly misunderstood that there were two simultaneous
causes of Alexander’s coma. Alexander’s coma was not caused solely by
the administration of the sedatives. The challenge is to tease out the
effects of the meningitis versus the effects of the sedatives. Alexander
was in a coma when he arrived in the ER and had continuous “tonic-
clonic” seizures (status epilepticus), the type of seizure that causes un-
consciousness and “tonic phase” muscle contractions, thrashing and
moaning, followed by “clonic phase” convulsions and violent shaking.
Potter and Wade diagnosed the cause of the seizures to be an aggres-
sive gram- negative bacterial meningitis. In order to treat Alexander,
they had to administer diazepam sedatives to control the seizures.
Thus, the primary cause of Alexander’s coma was the bacterial men-
78 JOURNA L OF N EAR-DEATH STUDIES
ingitis infection, and the secondary cause was the sedatives adminis-
tered to suppress the seizure symptoms.
Finally, Dittrich may have assumed that the sedative itself caused
Alexander’s vivid subjective experiences. Diazepam— also known as
Valium— is a sedative used to counteract the crisis effects of hallucino-
genic drugs such as LSD, phencyclidine (PCP), and marijuana (Schil-
ling McCann, 2002)— certainly not to exacerbate symptoms of these
latter drugs.
Summary
With this analysis, all three key aws in Alexander’s story have
turned out to be either trivial or totally false. And Dittrich relied es-
pecially on the last alleged aw to build a case that Alexander’s story
was a complete fabrication and his heavenly experience a hallucina-
tion or a fantasy.
All it would have taken was a simple conversation with two or three
of the people identied in Proof of Heaven as witnesses— who were
available to be interviewed— to corroborate or denitively refute Al-
exander’s account. In this last case, Dittrich’s argument rested solely
on Potter’s assessment. Yet had he asked her, Potter would have con-
rmed the accuracy of Alexander’s story. Likewise, Holley Alexander,
Michael Sullivan, Phyllis Alexander, and Sylvia White would have
conrmed the accuracy of the story in Proof of Heaven.
Coda: The Dalai Lama Allegedly Pronounces
Eben Alexander Unreliable and a Liar
Applying his excellent journalistic skills, Dittrich saved the best chal-
lenges to Alexander’s character and veracity for the end of his article—
from the Dalai Lama, no less, a spiritual leader held in high esteem
throughout the world. So important were these pronouncements that
the Esquire editors emblazoned them in an all- caps pull quote early
in the article:
THE DALAI LAMA WAGS A FINGER AT ALEXANDER. WHEN A
MAN MAKES EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS, HE SAYS, A “THOR-
OUGH INVESTIGATION” IS REQUIRED, TO ENSURE THAT
PERSON IS “RELIABLE,” HAS “NO REASON TO LIE.” (p. 93)
The quote might just as well have said:
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 79
THE DALAI LAMA INVITES EBEN ALEXANDER TO SPEAK AT
HIS COLLEGE’S CONVOCATION IN ORDER TO PRONOUNCE
HIM UNRELIABLE AND A LIAR.
On May 10, 2013, His Holiness invited two distinguished scholars
to speak at a symposium on “Life and After Life” as part of the Bud-
dhist Maitripa College convocation in Portland, Oregon (Dalai Lama,
2013). Alexander spoke briey about his NDE and how his view of
past and future lives and the mind’s potential had been transformed
by it. Dr. José Cabezon, a Buddhist scholar, then spoke from an aca-
demic perspective about reincarnation. His Holiness then commented,
speaking mostly in English but occasionally reverting to Tibetan and
having a translator translate into English.
His Holiness rst commented on Cabezon’s talk. Then, at the
44:25- minute point in the video, he turned to address Alexander. Here
Dittrich picked up the story:
[45:50] His Holiness explained that phenomena are categorized into
“evident phenomena” that can be studied by direct observation, “hid-
den phenomena” that can be inferred based on observed phenomena,
and then the third category is “extremely hidden phenomena” which
can be accessed only through our own rst- person experience or the
rst- person testimony of someone else.
[46:54] “Now for example,” the Dalai Lama says, “his sort of experi-
ence.” He points to Alexander. “For him, it’s something reality. Real.
But those people who never sort of experienced that, still, his mind is
a little bit sort of . . . ” He taps his ngers against the side of his head.
“Different!” he says . . .
[47:46] “For that also, we must investigate,” the Dalai Lama says.
“Through investigation we must get sure that person is truly reliable.”
He wags a nger in Alexander’s direction. When a man makes extraor-
dinary claims, a “thorough investigation” is required, to ensure “that
person reliable, never telling lie,” and has “no reason to lie” [emphasis
added]. (p. 127)
For Dittrich, the implication here was very clear: The Dalai Lama has
caught Alexander in the lies that are now all too clear in his book.
However, my examination of this video revealed a very different
tone and implication from the Dalai Lama. The rst words His Holi-
ness addressed to Alexander were:
[44:25, DL gestures to EA] As for your own, as your explanation, on
the basis of your own sort of experience, quite sort of, ah, amazing
[emphasis added].
80 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
For me, the Dalai Lama’s connotation was clearly positive, not ind icat-
ing doubt or aspersion but, rather, implying that Alexander’s account
was impressive and thought provoking.
His Holiness later proceeded to talk about dealing with “extremely
hidden phenomena”:
[46:54, DL gestures to EA] Now for example, his own sort of experi-
ence: For him it’s something real. But those people who never sort of
experienced that, still, his mind is a little bit sort of different [laughs].
It’s possible like that. [Translator] So when we touch upon the third
category of phenomena which is really extremely hidden and obscure,
then, for the time being, for the other people— there’s no real access,
direct or inferential, so the only method that is left is to really rely on
the testimony of the rst- person experience of the person himself or
herself.
Here, I believe His Holiness is referring to a phenomenon well known
in transpersonal psychology: People who have not had direct experi-
ence with transcendent states of consciousness typically have dif-
culty relating to such experiences. As philosopher Ken Wilber (2000)
has expressed it, those inexperienced with transcendent states are
prone to the “pre/trans fallacy,” that is, considering trans- rational
states, such as those involved in NDEs, as pre- rational states, such
as psychosis. Thus, to non- NDErs, the minds of NDErs may indeed
be considered “a little bit sort of different” (Jan Holden, personal com-
munication, December 18, 2016).
[47:46] [DL] And for that also you see, we must investigate. Through
investigation we must get sure that person is truly reliable and his ex-
perience is something not just illusion of these things. Through then
thorough investigation, that person is reliable, never telling lie— and
in this particular case, this is no reason to tell lie. Therefore, [Trans-
lator:] so then, one can take the testimony to be credible [emphasis
added]. [Translator:] So the point I’m trying to make is that with re-
spect to science and its scope for discovering knowledge, we need to
make a distinction about the fact that there might be certain types of
phenomena, which are beyond the scope of scientic inquiry.
Dittrich apparently missed or ignored the highlighted phrases. In par-
ticular, Dittrich ended his account of the Dalai Lama’s statement with
“thorough investigation, that person is reliable, never telling lie” and,
crucially, leaves out the rest of the statement, referring to Alexander:
“and in this particular case, this is no reason to tell lie. Therefore, so
then, one can take the testimony to be credible.”
Let’s compare how Dittrich interpreted this part versus what was
actually said:
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 81
He wags a nger in Alexander’s direction. When a man makes ex-
traordinary claims [emphasis added], a “thorough investigation” is
required, to ensure “that person reliable, never telling lie,” and has
“no reason to lie [emphasis added].”
His Holiness did not wag his nger at Alexander; to me he clearly
was emphasizing his point literally with a pointed nger— pointed at
no one in particular, or perhaps guratively at anyone investigating
cases such as Alexander’s. In addition, the Dalai Lama did not say
“when a man makes extraordinary claims”— and Dittrich’s careful
wording did not indicate that he did, but, through journalistic crafti-
ness, Dittrich inserted it to indicate that this wording was the Da-
lai Lama’s implication. However, His Holiness was not referring, as
the saying goes, to “extraordinary claims that require extraordinary
proof” but, rather, to “extremely obscure phenomena” that call for a
careful determination that the source person is reliable, never telling
a lie, with no reason to lie.
For Dittrich, Alexander had every reason to lie about his experi-
ence: the nancial gain, prestige, and adulation as the Prophet of
Heaven (p. 91). For His Holiness, Alexander has no reason to lie, and,
therefore, one can take Alexander’s testimony to be credible. And His
Holiness went on to show his acceptance of the validity of Alexander’s
experience:
[49:12] [DL] Among the scientists so far as I notice, the later part of
the twentieth century, they [created] a sort of knowledge or eld, they
carried a sort of research about the brain— quite subtly. [49:30, point-
ing to EA] At a more deeper level, there is still more mysterious things
[emphasis added].
Apparently, Dittrich missed this point also. Dittrich’s summary of the
proceedings after “has no reason to lie” was simply, “Then [the Dalai
Lama] changes the subject, starts talking about a massive project to
translate ancient Tibetan texts.” Anyone who takes a few minutes to
view the video directly can see that that is not actually what happened.
But Dittrich’s main point had been made: The Dalai Lama did, or
clearly would if he had the full picture, judge Alexander as the unre-
liable liar Dittrich had clearly shown him to be. Never mind that it
doesn’t even make sense that the Dalai Lama would invite a person to
speak at the convocation of one of his colleges and then turn around
and proclaim the man unreliable and a liar. The incongruity of such a
picture certainly stretches one’s credulity.
Apparently, Dittrich did not realize how far off his interpretation
of the Dalai Lama’s words were, evidently skipping over the phrase,
82 JOURNA L OF NEAR-DEATH STUDIE S
referring to Alexander, “and in this particular case this is no reason to
tell lie,” which completely nullies his interpretation. And apparently,
Dittrich’s editors did not check how accurate his transcription and
interpretation were. Again, apparently neither Dittrich nor his editors
realized how incongruous their interpretation was in light of Alexan-
der’s position as an honored guest at the Dalai Lama’s symposium—
even emblazoning the clearly erroneous implications at the top of the
Esquire article page.
It is instructive to see how such an erroneous interpretation can
take on a life of its own, being repeated over and over as truth among
ardent skeptics. Such canards then become the standard shorthand
of skeptical dismission. One can now expect Alexander’s NDE to be
dismissed out of hand because “the Dalai Lama himself showed it was
a total lie.”
John M. Fischer, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Univer-
sity of California Riverside, recently cited Dittrich’s Esquire article,
afrming its essential erroneous conclusion and including a two- page
quotation of the Dalai Lama’s alleged pronouncement against Alexan-
der (Fischer & Mitchell- Yellin, 2016). Despite the fact that an earlier
version of this critique of Dittrich’s article, and several similar cri-
tiques, have been available on the Internet since August, 2013 (Mays,
2013), Fischer concluded, “We agree with the Dalai Lama that, es-
pecially in the context where extraordinary claims are being made,
the responsible thing to do is inquire critically” (Fischer & Mitchell-
Yellin, 2016, p. 178). He and his co- author appear not to have taken
their own advice.
It is quite ironic that a major thesis in Fischer’s and Benjamin
Mitchell- Yellin’s (2016) book, Near- death experiences: Understand-
ing visions of the afterlife, was that NDEs are accepted so readily by
NDErs and believers” alike because of “conrmation bias,” that is,
accepting only those facts that conrm one’s preexisting beliefs. Here
it appears to me that Fischer himself succumbed to conrmation bias
of his philosophical materialist worldview.
What is at stake here is a man’s reputation. What Dittrich and his
editors did was to take the words of the Dalai Lama and twist and
distort their meaning to the opposite of their true meaning, in order
to drive home a conclusion— that Alexander is a fraud— a conclusion
which I have shown here to be completely unwarranted and erroneous.
Fischer uncritically accepted Dittrich’s account of Alexander, thereby
compounding Dittrichs errors by giving them the unqualied endorse-
ment of a distinguished professor of philosophy.
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 83
Great Journalism or Journalistic Malpractice?
To Esquire’s Editor- in- Chief, Dittrich’s story represents great journal-
ism. To me, the Dittrich article is shoddy and irresponsible journal-
ism— shoddy because of Dittrich’s and his Esquire editors’ evident
failures:
to consider alternate explanations (rainbow),
to check with the cited witnesses (Holley, Phyllis, and Betty Alexander
and Sylvia White),
to verify information with additional witnesses (Holley Alexander,
Michael Sullivan, and others),
to check with medical experts (on the likely cause of coma),
to check again on crucial testimony of the sole cited witness (Laura
Potter),
to read the book carefully (Scott Wade’s statement about Alexander’s
coma),
to exercise care in asserting erroneous “facts” (use of drugs was not
mentioned in the book),
to exercise care in quoting and interpreting recorded remarks (Dalai
Lama),
to exercise common sense in interpreting the meaning of statements
(Dalai Lama), and
to respond when serious questions of accuracy were raised (interview
request by Alex Tsakiris about Potter’s statement).
And Dittrich’s article was irresponsible because of the impact— the
real harm— that the resulting distortions have caused. I am sure Dit-
trich and his editors felt completely justied based on what they felt
was a solid case against Alexander. They probably also considered the
negative effect that Dittrich’s article and its conclusions would have
on Alexander and others and similarly felt justied. In their minds,
Alexander is a complete fraud and deserves to be exposed as such.
But at issue is whether Dittrich and his editors exercised sufcient
care in building their case. In my opinion, they did not: The facts
presented in the article were distorted or completely wrong, and the
conclusions were totally unwarranted. And the result has been dev-
astating to those people who know the facts and how utterly wrong
they were portrayed in the article. They include all of the people I
mentioned two paragraphs above, especially Potter whose statements
were misrepresented and distorted by Dittrich to establish the central
“fact” of his case. I strongly suspect that even His Holiness the Dalai
Lama would be quite dismayed that his warm, supportive statements
84 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
to Alexander have been so cleverly distorted into the exact opposite of
his meaning.
But the person most harmed is Alexander, whose reputation has
been severely damaged on the basis of Dittrich’s erroneous, distorted
judgments. From now on, many people will associate Alexander with
altering records, embellishment, fabrication, and delusion. Alexan-
der’s response seems all the more relevant now that the facts are a
little clearer:
I wrote a truthful account of my experiences in Proof of Heaven and
have acknowledged in the book both my professional and personal
accomplishments and my setbacks. I stand by every word in this book
and have made its message the purpose of my life. Esquire’s cynical
article distorts the facts of my 25- year career as a neurosurgeon and is
a textbook example of how unsupported assertions and cherry- picked
information can be assembled at the expense of the truth. [emphasis
added]
Dittrich also insinuated or leveled a number of other allegations
against Alexander. Alexander deserves to have his side of these cases
heard as well. Alexander’s 25- year neurosurgical career included over
4,000 surgeries. As Dittrich does not have a good track record with
the truth with respect to the points discussed above, I nd it impos-
sible to trust his portrayal of the facts regarding Alexander’s career.
The most serious of the cases Dittrich cited, that Alexander altered
medical records in a case of wrong- level spine surgery, similarly dis-
torted the truth, according to Alexander. The patient in question had
excellent relief of his symptoms after Alexander’s surgery, delaying
Alexander’s discovery that surgery had been performed at an un-
intended level. Alexander corrected the record to reect the newly
learned facts of the case and disclosed the surgical error to all parties
after follow up revealed a genuine surgical benet. After full investi-
gation by three state medical boards and the American Board of Neu-
rological Surgeons, Alexander continued to practice medicine without
restriction, with his board certication intact (E. Alexander, personal
communication, August 13, 2013).
From his investigative work, Dittrich presumably knows something
about malpractice. In professions like medical and legal practice, mal-
practice involves negligence or incompetence on the part of a profes-
sional, entailing failure to exercise the skill, prudence, and diligence
ordinarily expected of a member of the profession. The concept of mal-
practice is not ordinarily applied to journalistic practice. However,
there are certain ethics and standards of behavior that apply, particu-
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 85
larly within a given publishing organization. According to the code
of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (2014), journalists
should, among other things, take responsibility for the accuracy of
their work. Verify information before releasing it. Never deliberately
distort facts or context. Respond quickly to questions about accuracy,
clarity and fairness.”
Although it is not clear what standards of ethics apply at Esquire,
Dittrich appears to have violated the SPJ code of ethics on all of these
points. In my opinion, Dittrich’s actions in investigating and writing
the article and Esquire’s unabashed endorsement of it rise to the level
of malpractice. Thus, it was Dittrich and Esquire, rather than Alexan-
der, who perpetrated this professional error.
A Genuine Near- Death Experience
Another implication of Dittrich’s criticism is that Alexander’s NDE
was not a “genuine” NDE. On the contrary, every indication from Al-
exander’s account is that it was genuine. An NDE is a profound psy-
chological event a person has close to death or in a situation of physical
or psychological crisis (Greyson, 2000). Because it includes transcen-
dent or mystical elements, an NDE is a powerful event of conscious-
ness, resulting in profound, lasting aftereffects.
Every NDE is unique but also reects one or more common ele-
ments. Most NDEs have some subset of these elements: a feeling of
peace and the absence of pain, a feeling of being separated from the
physical body, a transition to a higher level (sometimes through a tun-
nel), being in a heavenly place of overwhelming beauty, meeting de-
ceased loved ones, being in the presence of a Being of Light or some
other spiritual being, having a life review, being transported to a place
of pure Love and Wisdom, reaching a barrier or being told you must go
back, and nally returning to the physical body.
Readers who are familiar with Alexander’s inner experience will
recognize that he experienced a number of these elements— for exam-
ple, a transition to a higher place, being in a heavenly place, meeting
a deceased loved one, being transported to a place of pure Love and
Wisdom, being in the presence of a high spiritual being, and being told
that he must go back.
Psychiatrist and NDE expert Bruce Greyson assessed Alexander’s
NDE at 29 on the NDE Scale (Greyson, 1983). This scale— the most
widely used in NDE research— is based on 16 NDE elements and their
intensity, scored 0 (absent), 1 (present in relatively mild form), or 2
86 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
(present in intense form). A total score of 7 or greater is considered to
indicate a genuine NDE. Alexander’s score falls within the top 2% of
NDEs in terms of “depth” of experience as measured by the NDE Scale
(Greyson, personal communication, January 24, 2017).
One aspect of Alexander’s (2012a) experience that is not very com-
mon in NDEs was his loss of all memory, language, and identity. As
mentioned earlier, I believe this outcome was the result of the ini-
tial simultaneous bacterial attack on specic areas of his brain— the
hippo campus, Wernicke’s language comprehension region, and the
frontal lobes.
The initial stage of Alexander’s (2012a) experience, the “Earth-
worm Eye View,is very uncommon. Alexander describes it as dark
and blurry, like being submerged in a kind of transparent mud, with
deep rhythmic pounding, a disgusting feces- like smell, and root- like
structures around him. Grotesque faces would bubble up, screech and
then disappear. In his talks after his book was published, Alexander
has stated that he believes this level of consciousness was actually
brain- based, “all that my feeble cortex could muster at the time.
Indeed, I would concur that the bacterial attack had probably not
yet reached all areas of his cortex at this point, in particular the sulci
or inward folds of the cortex. Still he was in a coma— unable to be
awakened, and failing either to respond normally to painful stimuli
or to initiate voluntary actions— with no memory, language, or sense
of identity. His brain’s minimal, intermittent electrical activity pro-
duced a minimal consciousness— a dull inward vision and rudimen-
tary hearing and smell.
Then a white- gold rotating light appeared, accompanied by a rich,
complex, “living” melody— the Spinning Melody. The light approached
and revealed an opening— reminiscent of the “tunnel” other near-
death experiencers (NDErs) have reported. Alexander experienced a
very quick movement upward through the opening and found him-
self in a beautiful hyperreal scene— brilliant, vibrant, stunning— The
Gateway. This part of Alexander’s experience is very much like those of
many other NDErs, a very real, heaven- like region— a verdant valley,
exquisite owering trees and bushes— and other people below. There
was a divine, warm comforting breeze blowing through the valley.
He was oating on the wing of a buttery; beside him sat a beauti-
ful young woman. Alexander was very explicit about her appearance:
deep blue eyes, high cheekbones, and long golden- brown hair. She
looked at him with a deep love and told him telepathically that he was
deeply loved forever. She told him he would learn many things but
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 87
eventually would have to go back. Again, these aspects of Alexander’s
experience are very typical, including the message that he would need
to go back.
Above him in The Gateway were puffy, pink- white clouds and trans-
parent orbs of shimmering beings, perhaps angels, singing in a glori-
ous, palpable chant. When he had an inward question— Where is this
place? Who am I?— the answers streamed into him from this chorus.
The thoughts entered into him directly without words.
It has been my experience that when NDErs begin to recount their
experience of the light- lled world that they visited, they are re- living
the experience in the telling. They are re- experiencing the feelings of
joy and love and the sense of “returning home” that they had in their
NDEs. They frequently say that in the retelling, they have been able
to “return to the Light,” if only briey. I have observed Alexander con-
vey these feelings through his voice and demeanor when he has retold
his s tory.
Finally, Alexander entered an immense innite void, completely
dark but also brimming with a light from a brilliant Orb. He was
now at The Core. The Orb was his companion, but within The Core,
permeating throughout it, was the Source, God the Creator. Through
the Orb, God disclosed many secrets and mysteries of existence to Al-
exander, knowledge that he received instantly and directly and stored
without memorization— knowledge that will take him a lifetime to
process. Again, this experience of the Innite Void, of being in the
presence of God and of receiving all knowledge and wisdom, is very
typical of the “deeper” NDEs although they are only a small percent-
age of the total of NDE accounts.
The vast majority of NDErs comment on the hyperreal quality of
their experience, saying it was “more real than real” and that “the
other realm is reality; this physical realm is the dream and illusion.”
They also frequently note— and researchers have conrmed (van
Lommel et al., 2001, pp. 2041–2042) that their memories of their
NDEs are very vivid and do not fade, even after many years. Alexan-
der’s NDE has both of these features.
Alexander was then pulled back into the Earthworm Eye View. But
at that point he had gained knowledge. And he found that if he thought
of the Spinning Melody, he would be able to return to The Gateway
Realm and then back to The Core. Each time though, inevitably, he
would be sent back. He took this round- trip journey several times.
Again, this is not at all uncommon for NDErs who have their experi-
ence while in coma over long periods of time. They nd themselves out
88 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
of their bodies in their NDEs and then returning back to their physi-
cal bodies many times, but always remaining in coma, unable to move
or communicate with the “outside” world.
Corroborating Time Anchors
Eventually, Alexander found that the Spinning Melody would no lon-
ger take him back to The Gateway. He sank back through walls of
clouds and noticed a murmuring around him— a great throng of be-
ings, people, who were praying for him. He later recognized two of the
faces, Michael Sullivan and his wife Page, both of whom he later con-
rmed had been praying for him. Page had not been physically present
in the hospital. (Alexander, 2012a, p. 103)
Toward the very end of his ordeal, he had descended back to the
Earthworm Eye View realm, but at this point the faces that appeared
were those he later remembered clearly. Looking back on it, he realized
that these were the faces of Sylvia White, Holley and her sister Peggy,
Scott Wade and another close friend of Holley’s, Susan Reintjes— ve
faces he recognized and a sixth that appeared later, that of his son
Bond (Alexander, 2012a, pp. 108–110).
It happened that earlier, White had contacted Reintjes at her home
in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Reintjes is an intuitive, author of
Third Eye Open (Reintjes, 2003), who regularly helps coma patients
to heal by contacting them psychically. White summarized Alexan-
der’s condition to Reintjes, who later reached out to Alexander in a
meditative state, “descending” to a very deep level, until she was sure
she had reached him. Reintjes told Alexander he was not ready to
leave his body yet; his body would know what to do to come back:
Even though I had done this [coma communication] work before, I had
never had to reach so far to contact a patient. For two hours I “talked”
with Eben, reassuring him that he was not ready to leave his body but
that he could not think his way out of the coma. I told him his body
knew what to do to come back and to try to relax into the process. That
night the nurses recorded the rst signs of responsive behavior and
the next night I sat with Eben again and repeated the messages, add-
ing new encouragement and instruction. The following morning he
opened his eyes and recognized his family surrounding him. He asked
his wife, my close friend Holley, “Where’s Susan?” Holley told him
that I had been helping him from Chapel Hill. But Eben was adamant
that I had been in the room. . . .
As Eben returned from his coma he told his family he had “seen”
them before awakening: “Of these the only one who was not actually
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 89
physically present at my bedside in those nal hours was Susan. But
in her way, she had been by my bedside, too, because that night, as
the night before, she had sat down in her home in Chapel Hill and
willed herself into my presence. My most this- worldly anchors in my
experience, temporally speaking, were my interactions with Susan
Reintjes when she contacted me on my fourth and fth nights.” (Rein-
tjes, 2013).
It is instructive to consider why Alexander had seen these specic six
faces. They had all been praying for him the last night or the nal
morning of his coma. Of these, Susan Reintjes had not been physically
present, having prayed and meditated from Chapel Hill, 120 miles
from Lynchburg.
The sixth face— that of his son Bond— was particularly compelling.
Alexander felt that this was the face of someone— he did not recognize
whom— who needed him, someone who would never recover if Alex-
ander left. If Alexander abandoned this person, the loss would be un-
bearable, a betrayal Alexander simply could not commit. In fact, that
Sunday morning, Bond was pleading— desperately— for his dad to
come back. And Alexander opened his eyes and began to look around
(Alexander, 2012a, pp. 111–112).
This feature of Alexander’s NDE— the faces that were later recog-
nized— would be called a veridical time anchor, an event or series of
events that establishes a time correlation between elements perceived
in the NDE and events that occurred in the earthly realm. This an-
chor consists of a series of faces later recognized by Alexander and
recognized as praying for him, perceived in the time sequence they
occurred in the earthly realm, particularly on the last night and nal
morning. It is all the more interesting that Reintjes, and also Page
Sullivan, had not been physically present in the hospital. The correla-
tion is further strengthened in that the last face, the last person, was
felt to be particularly emotionally compelling to Alexander and was
in fact the last person to be so emotionally involved in pleading for
Alexander’s return.
The details of these “time anchors” should be studied further to
verify them and because there are likely other interesting correlations
present. At this time, the correlations of the three time anchors—
particularly the recognition of people who were not physically pres-
ent— strongly suggest that Alexander’s experience could not have
been constructed in the moments after recovering consciousness, as
some skeptics have suggested.
90 JOURNAL OF NE AR-DEATH ST UDIES
An Encounter with a Deceased Person Unknown
to Alexander, with a Further Conrmation
Some NDEs include visions of deceased people who are not known to
the person or who are not known at the time to be dead.
Alexander was puzzled by who the beautiful young woman was who
accompanied him on the buttery wing in The Gateway Realm. He did
not recognize her, yet he remembered her features and her clothing
perfectly. He frequently would describe her to Holley and their friends
to the point that they all could almost see her in their mind’s eye.
When Alexander was four months old, he had been given up for
adoption. Only a year before his illness, he was nally reunited with
his birth parents, who had later married after his adoption and had
had other children. Their reunion was tinged with sadness because
the youngest daughter Betsy— Alexander’s biological sister— had died
nine years earlier.
Alexander did not receive Betsy’s photograph until four months af-
ter his coma, when his recovery was nearly complete. In the photo-
graph, Betsy had long brown hair, deep blue eyes, and a smile that
radiated love and kindness. She looked strangely, hauntingly familiar.
The next morning, Alexander was reading an NDE account in one of
Elisabeth Kübler- Ross’s books of a young girl’s NDE. The girl conded
to her father that she had met her brother in the NDE, only she did not
have a brother. Tearfully the father told her that she did indeed have a
brother who had died just three months before she was born, and they
had never told her about him (Alexander, 2012a, p. 168).
Alexander then realized that, while the photograph of Betsy did not
show the heavenly light of The Gateway around her and didn’t show
the beautiful powder blue and indigo dress he had seen her wearing
on the buttery wing, Betsy was indeed the young woman who had
accompanied him on the buttery wing in The Gateway Realm. There
was no mistaking her (Alexander, 2012a, p. 169).
And others recognized Betsy as the beautiful young woman whom
Alexander had met in his NDE— based on Alexander’s earlier descrip-
tions. Sylvia White wrote about and then elaborated on her experience
(personal communication, August 5 and 10, 2013):
One of the most convincing aspects of Eben’s account is his descrip-
tion of the young woman who accompanied him. He described her to
me and his wife Holley in minute detail, down to her golden streaked
hair, blue eyes, and dress. When I saw Betsy’s photo, which rests on
his bureau, I was stunned to realize that Betsy was the woman who
had been described to us, right down to her high cheekbones.
ROBERT G. MAYS, BSC 91
Shortly after [Eben’s] recovery, I visited Lynchburg. Holley took
me into the bedroom and said, “You won’t believe this.” She showed
me the framed photo of Betsy and told me that she was [Eben’s] de-
ceased sister. I immediately recognized her as the woman he had de-
scribed to us, especially her hair, eyes, and smile. It seemed to me at
the time that it was just not possible for a woman, who was that alive
and loving as she grinned into the camera, to be dead. Everything
about her convinced me that she was indeed the spirit guide for him
during his coma and spiritual experience.
Such encounters with a deceased person unknown to the NDEr are
fairly rare but they are striking and moving revelations to all who
hear them. Alexander’s experience has the additional conrmation
that his own descriptions of the beautiful young woman were so vivid
that they could be conrmed by those who similarly had never met
Betsy. His descriptions before the photograph arrived also negate the
objections some have proposed that Alexander had conated the pho-
tograph and his recollections of a young woman or that his memory
was merely a vague déjà vu.
Conclusion
Some critics might argue that one cannot come to a denitive conclu-
sion about Alexander’s case because his medical records remain con-
dential and his doctors— with the exception of Potter— have refused to
be interviewed, even though Alexander had given permission. Given
how Dittrich distorted Potter’s statements, that was probably a cor-
rect decision. Nevertheless, a scholarly analysis of Alexander’s medi-
cal case and NDE is warranted and hopefully will be undertaken.
In the meantime, the key evidence I have presented in this paper
supports Alexander’s account of his experience. This evidence includes:
(a) the statement by lead doctor Scott Wade of the diagnosis of gram-
negative E. coli meningitis and a six- day- long period of coma; (b) the
supporting medical data published by Alexander in AANS Neurosur-
geon; (c) the statement by Potter afrming the accuracy of Alexander’s
account of the medical facts of his case; (d) the prognosis that Wade
gave to Alexander’s wife on the morning of Alexander’s recovery, of ei-
ther death or a persistent vegetative state; (e) Alexander’s miraculous
recovery to complete health with no neurological aftereffects; and (f)
the validation that Alexander’s experience was a genuine NDE with
veried “time anchors” to events in the physical realm.
On the other side of the ledger is rst Dittrich’s report of a statement
by Potter that Alexander was merely in a medically induced coma,
92 JOURNA L OF NEAR-DEATH STUDIE S
“conscious but delirious.” Potter immediately disputed this charac-
terization in a statement to the press as inaccurate, taken out of con-
text and a misrepresentation of her account of Alexander’s condition.
Second is Dittrich’s clever manipulation of the Dalai Lama’s words to
imply what most observers would conclude is the opposite of His Holi-
ness’s characterization of Alexander’s experience.
In a controversial subject, denitive conclusions are rarely attained
to everyone’s satisfaction. To my mind, Eben Alexander’s Proof of
Heaven turns out to be quite the opposite of what Luke Dittrich por-
trayed or implied— namely, a story concocted out of the hallucinations
of a sick brain coming periodically out of sedation and embellished
with fanciful stories of rainbows and dramatic shouts for help. Rather,
Proof of Heaven turns out to be an honestly portrayed true story of
a dangerously close brush with death, a genuine near- death experi-
ence of heavenly revelation and a miraculous physical healing. Proof
of Heaven is, most importantly, a story of love of a love that could
reach across dimensions to unite a sister and brother who had never
met, and of the bond of love between a father and son that brought
Alexander back from death’s door.
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... It has been suggested by persons without access to this patient's medical records that his coma might have been pharmacologically induced, with the implication that that might reduce the credibility of his near-death experience account (Mays, 2016). His medical records suggest that his coma was not drug-induced, as his brain function and level of consciousness were clearly impaired and on a downward trajectory before sedation and started to improve before sedation was discontinued. ...
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Me permito a dirigirme a Usted con la finalidad de hacer algunas aportaciones tras haber leído en días previos el artí-culo publicado dentro de esta periódica de título "los médicos cirujanos y la literatura" 1. Al igual que Taha-Moretti 1 , coincido con la inherente rela-ción que existe entre la literatura y la medicina desde tiempos inmemorables, cuyo motivo es sin duda una interrogante; es quizás debido a la habilidad adquirida para relatar y docu-mentar gran cantidad de información siendo trasmitida de una forma digerible para otros. Debemos recordar que todas las áreas de la medicina conllevan una particularidad para inferir situaciones y resolver problemas; asimismo, la asequibilidad con la cual somos agraciados nos ha hecho tener a nuestro alcance nuevas tecnologías haciéndonos vivir experiencias únicas a lo largo de nuestra carrera, es así como Michael Crichton (1942-2008) escribió obras únicas que desencade-naron un nuevo género literario 2. De igual manera, Frank G. Slaughter (1908-2001), quien hubo de escribir un gran com-pendio de novelas los cuales mostraban a las masas la vida de un médico militar y los avances tecnológicos 3. Por otra parte, dado que he considerado una futura carre-ra como escritor literario en algún punto de mi vida, me veo en la necesidad de hacer mención de algunas aportaciones que considero forzosa su remembranza. Si bien Taha-Moretti 1 ya ha mencionado a Frankenstein como una obra que ha sido reivindicada en relación a aspec-tos éticos de la medicina 4 , debemos comentar que la noche del nacimiento de este clásico romántico es conocida en el mundo de la literatura como "la noche de los monstruos", la cual tuvo lugar en Villa Diodiati el 16 de junio de 1816, en donde participó el grupo formado por Lord Byron, los Shelley y Polidori. Cada uno de los partícipes hubo de redactar el boceto de sus futuras obras, es así como de esa noche nacen "El vampiro" (1819), "Frankenstein o el moderno Prometeo" (1818) y "fragmento de una novela", publicado al final del poe-ma Mazeppa (1819). Es así como hubo de nacer otra figura literaria de características exponenciales, que hasta hoy en día continua siendo un elemento recurrente en un sinfín de escritos de diferentes tópicos, tal trabajo fue escrito por el médico inglés John William Polidori (1795-1821) quien hizo mención por vez primera del arquetipo romántico del vampiro, además, es él mismo quien adhiere características propias del mesmerismo al personaje 5. Dejando de lado lo anterior, existen una exuberante cornucopia de obras literarias que contienen elementos médicos o han sido escritas por mismos profesionales de la salud; sin embargo, este manuscrito hará referencia a algunos grandes escritos por aquellos pares que han dedicado su carrera a las neurociencias; siendo obligatorio hacer énfasis en el neuró-logo inglés Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933-2015) quien a través de su obra "Awakenings" (1973), habla a manera de narración la experiencia obtenida sobre el tratamiento con L-dopa para la encefalitis letárgica ocurrida en 1920. Sacks cuenta con 15 novelas como autor principal y algunas otras colaboraciones, en donde la mayoría hacen referencia a enfermedades de índole neuropsiquiatríca; es así como podemos mencionar "migraine" (1970), The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985), The Island of the Colour-blind and Cycad Island (1996), Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, 2007, por nombrar algunos 6. Ahora bien, es tiempo de hablar de uno de los bestseller más discutido y controversial dentro del campo neurocien-tífico, es decir el libro Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife (2012), escrito por Eben Alexander III, en donde relata su experiencia personal dentro del estado de coma mientras se encontraba combatiendo una meningitis en 2008; dentro de su obra habla de una experiencia extracorporal durante la enfermedad, en donde afirma que la conciencia existe más allá del cerebro, y la muerte es quizás sólo un estado más de la mente 7. En tanto que, las obras del neurocirujano británico Henry Marsh (1950) Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, y confessions (2014 y 2017, respectivamente) na-rran a manera de revelación autobiográfica 25 reflexiones dentro de una de las más duras profesiones quirúrgicas. De una forma sincera, el autor explica diferentes escenarios en donde hubo de tomar decisiones que conllevaban con-secuencias tanto para sus pacientes como para su propia salud mental. No sólo narra sus grandes logros, sino que en honesta manera habla sobre sus fracasos y como hubo de afrontarlos para continuar el día a día 8. Quizás el autor más conocido es Benjamin Solomon Carson (1951), no sólo por su carrera como político, sino por su libro Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (1990), el cual cuenta con una adaptación cinematográfica (2009), en donde narra sus años de formación y anécdotas como neurocirujano pediatra. Además, cuenta con algunas otras obras literarias anecdóticas y de autosuperación tales como: Take The Risk (2008), The Big Picture (2000) y Think Big (1996) 9. En general, podemos inferir que el medico se ha visto agraciado con las habilidades innatas o, incluso adquiridas a través de su carrera para la apreciación de la literatura y otras artes. Referencias 1. Taha-Moretti L. Los médicos cirujanos y la literatura. Rev. Chil. Neurocirugía 46: 68-69, 2020. 2. López-Valdés JC. Carta al editor: "El arte y la medicina. ¿Puede el arte hacernos mejores médicos?". Rev Hematol Mex. 2016; 17(4):301-4). 3. Castañón-González A, Pelayo-Salazar ME, Medina-Medina JE, López-Valdés JC. La medicina en la literatura. J Med Mov 2017; 13(3): 149-150. 4. López-Valdés JC. Del romanticismo y la ficción a la realidad: Dippel, Galvani, Aldini y «el moderno Prometeo». Breve historia del impulso nervioso. Gac Med Mex. 2018;154:105-110. El neurocirujano como artífice literario Rev. Chil. Neurocirugía 46: 129-130, 2020
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Some people report a near-death experience (NDE) after a life-threatening crisis. We aimed to establish the cause of this experience and assess factors that affected its frequency, depth, and content. In a prospective study, we included 344 consecutive cardiac patients who were successfully resuscitated after cardiac arrest in ten Dutch hospitals. We compared demographic, medical, pharmacological, and psychological data between patients who reported NDE and patients who did not (controls) after resuscitation. In a longitudinal study of life changes after NDE, we compared the groups 2 and 8 years later. 62 patients (18%) reported NDE, of whom 41 (12%) described a core experience. Occurrence of the experience was not associated with duration of cardiac arrest or unconsciousness, medication, or fear of death before cardiac arrest. Frequency of NDE was affected by how we defined NDE, the prospective nature of the research in older cardiac patients, age, surviving cardiac arrest in first myocardial infarction, more than one cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during stay in hospital, previous NDE, and memory problems after prolonged CPR. Depth of the experience was affected by sex, surviving CPR outside hospital, and fear before cardiac arrest. Significantly more patients who had an NDE, especially a deep experience, died within 30 days of CPR (p<0.0001). The process of transformation after NDE took several years, and differed from those of patients who survived cardiac arrest without NDE. We do not know why so few cardiac patients report NDE after CPR, although age plays a part. With a purely physiological explanation such as cerebral anoxia for the experience, most patients who have been clinically dead should report one.
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Proof of heaven: A neurosurgeon's journey into the afterlife
  • E Alexander
Alexander, E. (2012a). Proof of heaven: A neurosurgeon's journey into the afterlife. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.