Vital Signs

St. Louis Nurse Leads Rare, Prospective Study

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done; this will be published when it’s meant to be. It was interesting because recently studies began to be published on prayer in coronary units and alternative medical therapies, so it really was good timing. I think it meant more to the public that it came out now than if it would have come out perhaps several years ago.

When I think of how long it took to complete the paper, I also recall the obstacles that I had to overcome. But never once did I say that I was going to give up. No matter how gloomy it looked, no matter how difficult it was, I just felt that I needed to do this. The study did not receive any funding, no one received any payment, no compensation—it just wasn’t about that.

VS: Have you seen that there has been progress at Barnes Hospital because of this? And even if there’s been progress, are there still obstacles by people who should know better but still refuse to pay attention?
JS: One of my goals was to increase the awareness of medical professionals. I gave talks to all different groups in the hospital— everybody was asking me, “Please come talk about your research!” They were begging me, from the operating room personnel to neurology. And people said, “Oh, my gosh, I never thought about when I said things while the patients were supposedly unconscious, that maybe they could hear what I was saying.”

So there’s this whole new awareness of how we treat patients when we think they’re unconscious. That’s one awareness.

Now medical professionals ask how can they intelligently discuss such experiences when they have a patient that tells them they’ve had one. They now have avenues for providing the patient with support. There is an IANDS support group in the St. Louis area.

I had a lot of interest from the psychiatrists and psychologists. One who was particularly responsive said, “I would be very happy to see any of your patients who need extra psychological support. I’ll be happy to take on those patients.” So I was able to establish a psychiatric and psychology referral involving a number of support systems within Barnes Hospital. It increased awareness. Most people didn’t even know what a near-death experience was when the study began. Now most medical professionals know what they are, and their significance. They all use their knowledge in the management of patients now, from the coronary care unit to the neurological intensive care unit.

VS: Has any of this experience become part of anyone’s teaching inside the University’s medical school?
JS: I don’t know. I gave talks throughout the hospital on NDEs and our study until about 4 years ago. By then I’d talked to every area. Medical students did attend. I don’t know what actual teaching is going on within the university’s medical school program, except that students hear about NDEs when they take the cardiology course that Alan Weiss teaches one month each year.

When the study was published this summer, Washington University and Barnes Hospital were so supportive. The University put out press releases, both in the print media and in radio across the country. And I’ve been contacted by local TV

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