The other side: Metro doctor trying to share the science behind near-death experiences

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Is there life after death? For most of us, it's a question only faith can answer.

Some people claim to have seen life after death, felt it, even heard it.

And one doctor in Kansas City has made it his mission to make sure doctors take those people and the science behind these experiences seriously.

On November 29, 2000, Hector Lugo not only had a heart attack -- he died.

“You were just a couple minutes away from us pronouncing you dead. You were dead for well over 12 minutes,” he said.

Hector Lugo

In those 12 minutes, Lugo witnessed something other-worldly. He said he saw a tunnel, then light, then brilliant colors.

“It was a vertical river of white and horizontal gold going across, and there were domes on the other side, three gold domes,” Lugo said.

Stories like these are what Dr. John Hagan has spent years studying.

“These are common. This is a medical syndrome. Doctors need to know about this,” Hagan said.

Hagan researched and wrote the only medical textbook for physicians about the science of near-death experiences, or NDEs. He discovered about 20% of people who've clinically died and been revived have NDEs.

But doctors rarely discuss those experiences with the patients.

It's a practice Hagan is trying to change by giving physicians a guide on how to talk to their patients about NDEs.

“Was there anything unusual that happened that you would like to talk about? That simple,” Hagan said.

He said telling patients who've had an NDE that they imagined it or shouldn't discuss it could cause long-term harm, especially to children.

“In children, if you negate their experience, tell them they only imagined it, don't talk about it, it's pretty well documented they fall behind their peers," Hagan said.

“The science of it -- we really can't explain," he said. "And you know, the essence of science is to be able to reproduce something, and we're never going to be able to do this in a scientific manner."

Dr. John Hagan

Doctors also don’t understand why those who have NDEs don’t suffer long-term physical damage afterward.

“Surprisingly, they should come back with enormous deficits in a vegetative death, but many of them come back with enhanced intellectual facilities,” Hagan said.

Scientists have discovered patients who've had these experiences share similar stories.

“They go to a heavenly place. They meet with a deity. They feel a sense of peace, love that is supernatural in content,” Hagan said.

That's how Independence native Dr. Jean Hausheer recalls her near death experience.

“There was a very brilliant beautiful light of peace and pure love,” she said.

Hausheer is now an opthalmologist in Oklahoma. She died when she was a 20-year-old medical student at UMKC after she received a lethal dose of medication.

“Next thing I know I'm suddenly suspended about 30 feet above what appeared to be a very slender brunette body lying on the floor,” she recalled.

She looked down and saw her body, then looked up and saw a light.

Hausheer went to the light.

“It was a place of familiarity and comfort. I felt like, 'Oh I've been here before,” Hausheer said.

Almost instantly she was given the choice to stay or go, and she was told if she went back to earth, she'd be healed and she'd be a doctor.

“I was given to feel the anguish of my parents should I choose to stay, so I'd understand. I was only 20,” she said. “I knew I would return to this place at some point, and I knew life was a gift and that I really needed to complete my time in life.”

Hausheer returned to her life.

Dr. Jean Hausheer

“And so I woke up and so the doctors, you know, I very rapidly recovered because you don`t usually get over this very quickly, but I was able to do that,” she explained.

Now, more than 40 years later, she vividly remembers every detail.

“We just need to validate these patients as this happens,” Hausheer said.

And doctors and scientists, she said, need to continue to study these experiences and the impact they have on patients’ lives.

“The science behind it is important because if you have one of these, I think for awhile you could feel confused if you were a person who had this happen and you didn't have anyone to talk to,” Hausheer said.

“It's really my hope is that it's a message of hope for people because that's really I think why this happens and why we should talk about it in conversation,” she said.

Talking about the amazing experience he had is something Lugo said is now part of his life's purpose.

“I've been passing it on as much as I can,” he said.

Because he said he wants people to know what comes next is something to look forward to.

“I do not fear what comes afterwards,” Lugo said.

Lugo just published a book regarding his near death experience. His book is available to the public, and all proceeds go to help medical students in Missouri with their tuition.

He said his research has made him feel at peace about what happens to people after they die.

However, in his research, Hagan has found about one in five people have a negative near death experience. He said they often struggle the most afterward, compared to those with the more 'heavenly' experience.

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