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A Closer Look at a Modern-Day "Miracle"

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consutlant
posted Friday Aug 23, 2013 12:00 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consutlant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

You can read my full bio at http://www.BoBennett.com.

On August 5, 2013, a 37-year-old Ohio man was declared dead by doctors, then "came back to life" allegedly moments later after the man's son yelled, "you're not going to die today!" (“Ohio Man Pronounced Dead, Tony Yahle, Comes Back to Life | Video - ABC News,” n.d.).  The family was Christian and credit the recovery to God.  At the time of this writing, the article appears in virtually every major US new source with supernatural claims and inferences being made, information being overlooked, and all logic and reason being ignored.  Here I will examine some of the issues from a critical thinking perspective.

First, I am happy for Tony Yahle and his family.  He is alive and well, and I am sure that both he and his family are grateful for that.  It would have been nice if the doctors who worked on reviving him for the 35-45 minutes while he was "coded," as well as the staff that took care of him for the five days he was unconscious after his heart started beating again, were given due credit.  Apparently, these people were ignored—at least in the media's reporting of the events.

Death is not an event, it is a process.  We can only say that someone came back to life when they were first dead.  A major issue in the medical community has to do with defining death.  Just because a doctor pronounces someone "dead," it does not make it objectively so.  In this case, the doctor was wrong when he pronounce Tony "dead."  Black and white thinking does not allow for death to be the process that it is—the story is much more powerful if we just say Tony was "dead."  Unfortunately, reality gets in the way of a good story.

Tony's heart stopped beating by itself for "around" 45 minutes.  In his Facebook post, Tony said that it was more like 35-45 minutes, but virtually every news source went with the 45 minute figure—35 minutes is still a long time.  However, his heart stopped beating by itself for this time; but oxygen was still getting to his brain by CPR and artificial means thanks to the doctors who worked tirelessly to save his life.  His heart started beating on its own "moments" after the doctors stopped performing CPR.  This explains why he is not brain dead.  Virtually all sources left this important fact out or their reports and many sources "reminded" readers that brain death occurs after only a few minutes of oxygen deprivation to the brain.

The cardiologist called this a "miracle."  Why? In the cardiologists own words, "I'm calling it a miracle because I've never seen anything like it."  Apparently there are no critical thinking courses in medical school, and this cardiologist is not keeping up with the scientific literature.  There is a phenomenon called Lazarus syndrome that was first identified in 1982, and there have been many documented cases since then, of exactly the same phenomenon experienced by Tony.  While there is no single known explanation, there are many possible suggestions outlined in several scientific papers (Adhiyaman, Adhiyaman, & Sundaram, 2007).  Ignorance of an explanation does not justify a miracle; it simply confirms the doctor's ignorance.

God gets the credit for saving him.  Wasn't it God that stopped his heart in the first place? 600,000 people die of heart failure in America every year, most of whom are praying Christians, statistically speaking.  Where are all the stories about God not saving these people?  There should be over 1500 stories a day.  If this story is evidence FOR the existence of God, then we must see all the other cases where praying to God results in death as evidence against the existence of God.

No explanation does not mean "God did it."  As a highly superstitious society, we look at stories like this and attribute supernatural agency where scientific explanation is lacking, instead of accepting that there might simply be some naturalistic explanation we don't know. Maybe we should extend our efforts to revive those with stopped hearts?  Perhaps we need to allow the body time to "restart" after initial resuscitation attempts? Again, this is not an unheard of phenomenon as the cardiologist made it appear in the media.  In fact, there are at least 38 documented cases in the scientific literature.  For a summary along with potential explanations for this phenomenon, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2121643/ .

If God didn't intervene in the natural order of the universe to save this guy's life and undo the heart problem he gave him, then what happened?  As mentioned, there are many proposed explanations for Lazarus Syndrome in the scientific literature including positive end expiratory pressure, delayed action of drugs, hyperkalaemia, myocardial stunning, and transient asystole (Adhiyaman, Adhiyaman, & Sundaram, 2007).  Of course, the answer is that we don't know for sure.  We can write it off as a "miracle" of a god who saves random people for some unknown reason, or we can assume that whatever the mechanism, it follows natural laws and can be investigated and controlled to save countless lives in the future.  I choose the latter.

References:

Adhiyaman, V., Adhiyaman, S., & Sundaram, R. (2007). The Lazarus phenomenon. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 100(12), 552–557.
Man Declared Dead Comes Back to Life. (2013, August 22). ABC News. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/ohio-man-declared-dead-back-life/story?id=20027401
Ohio Man Pronounced Dead, Tony Yahle, Comes Back to Life | Video - ABC News. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/ohio-man-pronounced-dead-tony-yahle-back-life-20045339

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