In England, a patient in her fifties was declared “dead” by paramedics before “waking up” at Darlington Memorial Hospital. Extremely rare cases known as “Lazarus syndrome” described by Dr. Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician.
Death: a diagnosis based on a bundle of clues
After being pronounced dead, the patient who had apparently come back to life eventually died, according to police. Across the Channel, the investigation is underway in a particular context following a report highlighting several failures by ambulance workers in the North-East of England.
However, these cases of declared death followed by awakening occasionally make the headlines in the media. IN Europe in April 2022, a garbage collector from Neuilly-sur-Marne was declared dead by the Samu after a heart attack and resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful. The patient then woke up while in a body bag…
As Doctor Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician and medical director of TipsForWomens, explained at the time, “the diagnosis of death is clinical, almost empirical”. In fact, there is noan additional examination, such as an x-ray or a blood test, to make this diagnosis”. The latter is based, in practice, on a “cluster of arguments such as the absence of pulse, respiration or electrical activity of the heart (flat electrocardiogram)”.
Focus on the phenomenon of Lazarus
In the case of this man and perhaps this patient in England, it could be the Lazarus phenomenon, which is “a biblical reference”.
Indeed, according to the Gospels, Jesus resurrects a man named Lazarus after explaining that he was only “asleep”. This is why we speak of the phenomenon of Lazarus to describe this curious medical way for a person to “come back to life”. However, even if the patient’s heart has resumed activity, the prognosis for these patients is often very poor.
As Dr Kierzek points out, these are “extremely rare cases”. Exceptional cases of awakening may be linked to other facts, “We are very wary of profound bradycardia, which is characterized by a heart rate so low that the pulse may appear absent, of drug poisoning or even hypothermia, which can wrongly lead to the conclusion of death even though the person is not dead”.