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Man Tells Of New Life After Being Pronounced Dead

March 3, 1988

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A 71-year-old retired coal miner who revived after being twice declared dead says he returned to life with a profound spiritual renewal.

″I think that it’s from a spiritual standpoint that (my life) has changed,″ Shirley Barnett, who is also a retired Baptist minister, said Wednesday.

″When I came to ... I had nothing but a heart full of love and joy for everybody. I was refreshed in the Holy Ghost.″

Barnett, who revived while his funeral arrangements were being made, was declared dead on Jan. 21 after a cardiac arrest. Doctors said he showed no vital signs for about 45 minutes during one episode and about 30 minutes during a second.

The slender, smiling man spoke to reporters from his wheelchair during a news conference at HCA Park West Medical Centers. Two of his doctors, who were at a loss to explain his revival, also were on hand to answer questions.

″I feel fine. A little weak, naturally,″ he said.

″The first thing I remember was my daughter telling me I was at Park West,″ he said. ″She put it pretty bluntly that I had died.″

On Jan. 16, Barnett was admitted to Methodist Medical Center in nearby Oak Ridge after suffering chest pains.

A heart artery constricted five days later, and doctors and nurses spent 45 minutes trying to revive him with an external pacemaker and electric shock, but he showed no pulse, blood pressure or neurological responses, said Dr. Victor McLaughlin, a cardiologist at the Oak Ridge hospital.

Weak, sporadic heartbeats were detected thereafter but were considered ″a dying heart pattern,″ the physician said.

″It is very unlikely that if you can bring someone back (from that status) you’ll have any functioning brain at all,″ McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said he told Barnett’s family members that the man had died, and he was disconnected from his intravenous feeding tubes and heart monitor.

Barnett’s daughters signed papers to remove the body to the morgue and began calling family and friends to tell them of his death and to make funeral arrangements.

A nurse who began cleaning out Barnett’s hospital room closet heard him start to breathe, McLaughlin said, and he was wheeled to the coronary care unit.

There, personnel again found no pulse or blood pressure. Barnett was hooked up to a pacemaker and respirator, but family members told doctors he had a ″living will″ requesting that he not be kept alive artificially.

That period of apparent death lasted about 30 minutes, McLaughlin said.

Doctors disconnected Barnett from the life-sustaining equipment, but once unhooked, he began breathing on his own again.

″The gentleman gradually began waking up ... and talked with us. He continued to do well on his own,″ said McLaughlin. ″There is no detectable short- or long-term memory loss in this man.

″I’ve never had an experience like this before,″ he said. ″There are obviously things that happen that we cannot explain.″

Barnett later underwent heart bypass surgery.

Dr. Gene Aaby, another of Barnett’s doctors, has said a possible reason for the revival could stem from Barnett’s black-lung condition, an occupational respiratory disease of miners.

″We came up with the theory that perhaps his brain had gotten used to less oxygen. We know various cells can adapt and function″ in adverse situations, he said.

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