This is probably old news to people who keep up with this sort of thing, but this particular instance of the problem is new to me. There is a link at the end of this post to the msnbc webpage where you can watch the original Dateline video broadcast (11 minutes in length) and read the transcript. I saw the story the other night on Nat Geo, but there is no online video of that show.
Here's what happened. A young man named Zachary Dunlap was out four-wheeling (a fairly stupid form of recreation in my opinion) with some friends. On the way home, Zach's hat blew off and he went back to get it. In an effort to catch up with his friends he gunned the engine and "popped" a wheelie. The problem is that you can't see anything when you're in a wheelie, so he came out of it to find that he was about to smash into one of his friends. He swerved, the 4-wheeler flipped, and a frame bar came down on his face with a crushing force that fractured his skull in nine places. His friends called 911, noting to the operator that there was "brain matter coming out of his ears." He was medivac'ed to a hospital and put on a ventilator while they treated him for a broken collar bone, the skull fractures, and tried to stabilize the swelling in his bleeding brain. Said the trauma surgeon, Dr. Leo Mercer, "His brain injuries were absolutely catastrophic."
Zach was not responding to any stimulation, causing the doctor to wonder if he was beyond hope. He ordered a scan that measures blood flow to the brain, and found that there was none, anywhere. The whole brain was "black." Doug Dunlap, Zach's adoptive father, said that "They were already saying he was brain-dead."
Interviewer Natalie Morales asked: "So, when you see this, I mean, he was in a permanent vegetative state?"
The doctor responded: "No, he was dead. He meets the legal, medical requirements for declaring a patient brain dead."
The parents "decided against keeping Zack on long-term artificial life support," the father, Doug, elaborating with, "...laying in bed the rest of his life? That wasn't an option."
Oh. But, the narrative assures us, Zach would "live on in another way". He was an organ donor.
Natalie Morales: "Always wanting to help."
Pam Dunlap (Zach's adoptive mother): "That's it. He had a huge heart." And to prove it, that was the first thing Mom and Dad signed away, his heart. But she could not part with his eyes, the most beautiful blue eyes she'd ever seen. The eyes were to stay put.
Within 36 hours after the accident, Zach was declared dead, his organs to be harvested "within the next 12 to 24 hours."
Family and friends gathered round to say goodbye. Among these were Zach's cousins, Dan and Christie Coffin, both nurses, and his grandmother Naomi. Naomi prayed for a miracle. Why? Because she was convinced that "...he was too young for God to take him. It wasn't time." How she could possibly know this is between her and God. Some people can get him on the wire, and some can't. But Christie also felt that "he's not ready," and Dan, studying the vital signs monitor, thought that "Things were just looking better to me." So he took out his pocket knife and scraped it across the bottom of Zach's foot. Zach jerked his foot away. The attending nurse said that this "was a reflex not uncommon even from those who are brain dead -- and certainly not indicative of life."
So Dan then sticks his fingernail beneath one of Zach's own and Zach yanks his arm away. This inspires the nurse to seek out Dr. Mercer, who has already declared the boy with the black brain dead. Suddenly, everything came to a stop, even with the organ donation liason folks on the premises.
And what was the reaction of Zach's grandmother, Naomi? Says she, "I had heard of miracles all my life. But I had never seen a miracle. But I have seen a miracle. I've got proof of it." And I would submit that, No ma'am, you do not.
And the doctor's reaction? "I still didn't think that Zack was going to have a good outcome. I thought, well, OK, he's not brain dead, but he's pretty close to it."
Gradually, over days and weeks, Zach woke up: opening his eyes, squeezing his mom's hand, saying "I love you," and finally walking.
Did he, the doctor, have any medical explanation for what had happened? No.
Morales then asks him: "Were any mistakes made, or was the process rushed along in any way to declare him brain dead because the family made you aware that he was an organ donor?"
Doc: "No. We didn't rush anything along. We certainly don't do that."
Well, doctor, how exactly does this square with the fact that the brain-dead boy, by his own testimony, heard you from his place among the dead declaring him to be so? And that it made him mad.
And the parents? Has it occurred to them to point any finger of blame?
Says Pam Dunlap: "We saw the test. We saw it. They followed every procedure. He was gone."
Natalie Morales: "So there is no blame?"
Pam Dunlap: "There's no blame in a miracle. And there never will be for us."
As further reassurance, the doctors contend that Zach's test results were accurate and, furthermore, that "the hospital would have detected Zack’s renewed vital signs before any organ harvesting."
A layman, of course, wonders how they would have accomplished this, since his vital signs (his caregivers must have assumed) were being forced upon him via ventilator. Perhaps when the ventilator was removed, and his heart and lungs kept on working, a light would have gone off. But the layman can't help but ask why this should make a difference, since he'd already been declared dead by a different standard.
The family is quite smitten with the word 'miracle,' and seem convinced that that's what they and Zach got. It is wonderful to think that God answers prayers, and that yours was worthy of being answered. It makes you feel special. It's also quite convenient for the doctor. He can confess to having no medical explanation, remain silent on the miracle, and let the family do the talking. No second-guessing or soul-searching need intrude. It's convenient for the family, too. They're off the hook for being too eager to show what a big heart their son had, and for trusting too much in the judgement of doctors and an all-seeing medical technology that can't see quite deeply enough.
As for me, I ask God that, when the time comes, he kill me quickly and completely, all at once. Total me; leave nothing on idle. Because in today's atomosphere, if you're not dead but you're close, that might be close enough.
Out of curiosity, I checked out a few medical articles and found a couple calling for a uniform standard of death because, frankly, it's hard to come by. An idea I did not see entertained in any of the articles is the possibility that there isn't one, that we might just have to wait a decent interval before declaring people dead. But if there's one thing we hate, it's waiting, especially while there's treasure in that there thoracic cavity.
A Today show interview with the family, in which Doug Dunlap says, "We didn't want him as a vegetable." Though this can be interpreted in more than one way, it's always distressing when the word 'vegetable' so easily passes a parent's lips.
A few other interesting links:
From lifesitenews -
Dr. Byrne says that over the years he has collected information pertaining to numerous cases where patients labeled brain dead have 'returned from the dead.' The reason being, says Byrne, is that "brain death is never really death....Brain death was concocted, it was made up in order to get organs. It was never based on science."
In 2007 Dr. John Shea, LifeSiteNews.com's medical advisor, wrote in agreement with Byrne's concerns about brain death, saying that the criteria of "brain death" is scientific theory, and not fact, adding that it is a theory that is particularly open to utilitarian abuse and therefore should be treated with extra caution. He also pointed out that there is the added trouble that there are a number of various sets of brain-death criteria, such that a person may be considered dead according to one, and not by another.
From Wikipedia, [for what it's worth]:
Alternatively, a radionuclide cerebral blood flow scan that shows complete absence of intracranial blood flow can be used to confirm the diagnosis without performing EEGs. The case of Zach Dunlap, who was declared brain dead but later recovered, may be seen to undermine this presumption. However, since he was declared dead only a few hours after presentation, he did not yet meet the American Academy of Neurology's brain death criteria, so he should not have been declared dead and would not have met UK test conditions in any case. This is clearly a case of negligent misdiagnosis.
And from Medscape:
The true incidence, temporal characteristics, and predictors of autoresuscitation in humans remain unknown because of underreporting in the literature. However, there have been case reports of autoresuscitation with return of neurologic function (also called the Lazarus phenomenon) after 10 minutes of cardiac asystole.