Vital Signs

St. Louis Nurse Leads Rare, Prospective Study

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by Paul Bernstein, Ph.D.

Nurse Janet Schwaninger, coordinator of cardiology care at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a teaching venue of the Washington University medical school (St. Louis, Missouri), this summer saw her three year study of near-death experiencers published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Her research is only the third prospective* study of cardiac-arrest neardeath experiencers published in the US, and the fifth ever in the world. Vital Signs is delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Nurse Schwaninger, to gain from her an inside view of the practical rigors of designing, conducting, and publishing such valuable research.

janet_schwaningerrnbsn

Photo by Linda Jacquin

Barnes Hospital
Cardiovascular Coordinator
—and NDE researcher—
Janet Schwaninger, RN, BSN

VS: What started you in this work?
JS: In 1989 I witnessed the cardiac arrest of a medical colleague, during his recovery after a heart-valve replacement. Many hospital personnel knew this physician, and a number of us were present at the time of his arrest. It took seven defibrillations before he was revived.

When he became conscious, he told us he had witnessed the entire arrest, from a vantage point to the left in the upper corner of the room. He described everything that we’d done, and knew exactly how many times we had defibrillated him. Then he told us that there was a spiritual entity with him during the entire arrest who was very reassuring to him, telling him that everything would be okay, no matter how things turned out—which surprised him very much. He had never heard of an NDE before. “I felt totally conscious and totally aware, and yet I know that medically I was virtually dead because you defibrillated me seven times.”

*Interviewing all revived patients in a hospital unit, before knowing which ones have had an NDE. 


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