The Lazarus phenomenon: Why wa

There have been a number of cases whereby patients’ vital signs have returned after being declared dead. Image: Getty Images/Stock Image

The Lazarus phenomenon: Why waking up in a morgue is possible

Reports of a man who woke up in a morgue after being declared dead has renewed people’s interest in what is called the Lazarus phenomenon.

The Lazarus phenomenon: Why wa

There have been a number of cases whereby patients’ vital signs have returned after being declared dead. Image: Getty Images/Stock Image

After a man from India was pronounced dead due to a motorcycle accident turned out to be alive, many are wondering what exactly took place and if waking up in a morgue is even possible.

When you are falsely declared dead

According to Medical News Today, there are rare situations in which this was the case. The publication cites various cases, saying that there have been a number of cases whereby patients’ vital signs have returned after being declared dead.

While this does sound like a horror movie, there is a real-world name for such cases: Lazarus syndrome.

The Lazarus syndrome

The Lazarus phenomenon, or Lazarus syndrome, is defined as a delayed return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) after CPR has ceased. In other words, patients who are pronounced dead after cardiac arrest experience an impromptu return of cardiac activity.

The syndrome is named after Lazarus of Bethany, who – according to the New Testament of the Bible – was brought back to life by Jesus Christ four days after his death.

Since 1982, when the Lazarus phenomenon was first described in medical literature, there have been at least 38 reported cases.

The latest being that of Srikesh Kumar, a 45-year-old man from India who was in a critical condition after being hit by a motorcycle in Moradabad, east of New Delhi. He was then rushed to a private hospital where he was declared dead by a doctor on arrival. Kumar’s body was then taken to a government medical facility where a post-mortem examination was conducted.

He was placed inside the morgue freezer, where he remained overnight.

“The emergency medical officer examined him. He did not find any signs of life and hence declared him dead,” Rajendra Kumar, the hospital’s medical superintendent, told Agence France-Presse.

An underreported event

Maxillofacial Surgeon Dr Vaibhav Sahni said in 2016 that the Lazarus phenomenon is a grossly underreported event.

“The reason for these can be attributed to the fact that medicolegal issues are brought to light in cases which are pronounced dead which later turn out to have been alive,” he explains.

“The professional expertise of the resuscitating doctor can be brought into question, not to mention the fact that such an event can lead to disrepute among colleagues.

“Another pertinent question that arises is whether the death of a particular patient occurred as a result of premature cessation of resuscitative efforts or the omission of continued resuscitation,” he adds.

It is not clear what causes the Lazarus syndrome, but there are a couple of theories.

What might cause Lazarus syndrome?

Some researchers suggest that the Lazarus phenomenon may be down to a pressure buildup in the chest caused by CPR.

Once CPR is ceased, this pressure may gradually release and kick-start the heart back into action.

Another theory is the delayed action of medication used as a part of resuscitation efforts, such as adrenaline.

“It is possible that drugs injected through a peripheral vein are inadequately delivered centrally due to impaired venous return, and when venous return improves after stopping the dynamic hyperinflation, delivery of drugs could contribute to return of circulation,” Vedamurthy Adhiyaman and colleagues explained in their 2007 report.

Hyperkalemia – whereby blood levels of potassium are too high – is another proposed explanation for the Lazarus phenomenon.

Because so few cases of Lazarus syndrome are reported, uncovering the exact mechanisms behind the condition is tricky.

One of the biggest causes includes the fact that maybe they were never deceased.

Appearing to be dead

It is said that there are a number of medical conditions that can make an individual “appear” dead. This includes hypothermia, catalepsy, and locked-in syndrome.

In order to make sure that a patient is then in fact dead, some researchers have suggested that patients should be “passively monitored” for 10 minutes following death.