Whether psychic trip or physical blip, near-death tales are eerily similar
By Craig Mcqueen
IT'S easy to scoff at people who say they have had a near-death experience during a serious illness.
Stories of travelling through tunnels and hearing strange voices have been around for more than 1000 years.
But for the people who experience them, the episodes are so real they often have a life-changing effect.
Now scientists have suggested that near-death experiences could be something biological, rather than spiritual.
By studying 55 people who have had such experiences compared with 55 who had not, neurologists at the University of Kentucky showed that differences in sleep patterns could be responsible.
They found that for people with near-death experiences, the boundaries between being asleep and being awake could often be blurred - and that this could explain many of the symptoms which such people report.
But as these examples show, science still isn't able to explain everything connected to the spooky phenomenon...
TRYING to prove you've had a near-death experience is just about impossible, but at least Mike Richards had something to show for his.
The 60-year-old was in hospital recovering from cancer when he suffered a relapse and fell unconscious.
He found himself in a pink room with no floor or ceiling. In the room were his father, his wife's mother and a scruffy man in a white cloak who told him he wasn't ready and to go back.
But that wasn't all. When the life-long cerebral palsy sufferer regained consciousness, he found he had the use of his disabled left hand for the first time in his life.
SEEING dead relatives is a common theme.
During major surgery, 49-year-old Lorraine Everton suffered two heart attacks. Like Mike, she recalls being in a warm room with no floor or ceiling where a long-dead aunt said she was safe.
When she woke up in intensive care four days later, she was able to tell a nurse by writing on a piece of paper that she died twice during the operation.
IT was 25 years ago that amateur athlete Christine Barratt, then 33, almost died in a cycling accident in the Bahamas.
She was unconscious for four days but remembered feeling euphoria as all the events in her life flashed before her.
A voice told her to decide whether to stay or go back and that if she went back she'd be stronger than before.
During her recovery, she was told she would never run again, but Christine remembered the voice and went on to become a world-class long-distance runner.
LILLIAN OAKTREE was 46 when the asthma she had battled for 20 years nearly claimed her life.
On her fourth day in hospital, a sudden, searing pain in her chest was replaced by a feeling of calm as she looked on her own body. She was then transported through a dark tunnel to green countryside where she met many dead relatives, friends and pets.
Two "beings" in white cloaks also spoke to her before she suddenly woke up, later to find that her chronic asthma condition had improved dramatically.
NOT all near-death experiences are so positive. While in hospital after a suicide attempt, Samantha Swinglehurst found herself on a black plain with a voice telling her she was in a place called The Clearing House.
All the big events in her life - good and bad - were then played back and she said the experience was key in making sure she didn't make the same mistakes again and she lived her life to the full.
JEANETTE ATKINSON'S near-death experience was also heavily influenced by her hospital surroundings.
She was only 19 when she collapsed with multiple blood clots, but she remembers floating up towards the ceiling and looking at her own body before flying around the room and looking at other patients.
She even remembers the strip light in the ward was covered in a layer of dust and she was angry no one had the time to clean it.
LIVING relatives can also appear during near-death experiences. Writer Amanda Cable nearly died on the operating table following an ectopic pregnancy.
She remembers travelling down a tunnel before seeing her five-year-old daughter, Ruby, who was starting school that day.
She took her daughter to school before returning to her own body and waking up a couple of hours later.
Despite not having seen her daughter in her school uniform before then, her recollection was identical to how Ruby looked as she went to school with her father that morning.
MARGOT CHAMBERLIN took ill with typhoid while on holiday in India.
After losing consciousness, she remembers floating round the room looking down on herself before flying through the ceiling and off into outer space.
She was drawn to an intense bright light before making the choice to live rather than to die. She returned to her body and, after recovering, began studying to become a psychotherapist.
TOM RAYNER'S job as a pilot probably had an influence on his near-death experience.
While in a coma after a car crash, the dad-of-three from Norfolk felt himself in the sky, looking down on East Anglia, Western Europe then the Northern Hemisphere.
His journey went on into space before reversing, and he found himself in an unknown African country.
After waking, he sold his firm, bought a Landrover ambulance and went to Africa where he worked delivering drugs to a field hospital in the middle of a war zone.
OTHER near-death experiences are clearly based on the person's actual surroundings. Concert pianist Annette Servadei suffered a heart attack on the same night as the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in 1987. A TV monitor in casualty was reporting the tragedy and after losing consciousness she found herself standing in a tunnel - but could still see people in the water with their spirits leaving their bodies. They were heading towards a light above them. But Annette was told by a male voice it wasn't her time to go, then she woke up.