A Near-Death Experience During a Lung Transplant

During his surgery, he was transported to an otherworldly place filled with light, and met two mysterious figures.

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Posted in , Mar 25, 2022

Photo credit: MARTA LEBEK/STOCKSY

“Mike, we found a match,” my doctor said over the phone. “You’re getting a new set of lungs. I’ll see you in surgery early tomorrow morning.”

I stared at my wife, Patti, in shock. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. This was the call we’d been praying for. I hung up the phone, and Patti swept me into a hug.

Five years before, I’d been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease that causes scar tissue to form in the lungs, making it hard to breathe. There is no cure and, in some cases, like mine, no known cause. Before my diagnosis, I thought I was healthy. I was 54 years old, the pastor of our church in Louisville, Kentucky. I had never smoked a day in my life. I was even a singer who’d performed on-stage. After my diagnosis, my condition had continued to deteriorate rapidly until I needed to be on an oxygen tank 24/7. I’d been on the transplant list for three years.

“I’m getting a lung transplant,” I said aloud.

That night we packed a bag and hurried to the car, my oxygen tank in tow. During the drive to the hospital, I was lost in thought. Receiving a new pair of lungs was a huge blessing, but it was a lot for me to take in. Even though my lungs were no longer healthy, it was hard to reconcile losing the organs I’d used to take my first breath, sing my first song. They were about to be replaced by the lungs of a total stranger, an anonymous donor, someone whose death meant that my life would be saved. I felt guilty that I got to keep on living, and deeply disconnected from the stranger’s lungs that would allow me to do so. It felt as if I were taking something that didn’t belong to me.

I knew one potential risk of surgery was that my body could reject the new lungs. I couldn’t help but wonder—if my soul couldn’t come to terms with the transplant, what chance did my body have? Though I tried to push the question from my mind, it needled me like a thorn.

At the hospital, we settled in and waited for the operation, which was scheduled for 6 A.M. In the morning, the nurses prepped me for surgery. I kissed Patti and held her close. “Everything is going to be okay,” she said. Still, as the nurses got me ready, I remained uneasy. When they wheeled me into the operating room and put the anesthesia mask over my face, I sank into a timeless darkness.

Then I was conscious. I couldn’t feel anything, but I could see. What’s going on? I thought. I was in the operating room, but I wasn’t on the operating table. I was floating above it. From my vantage point overhead, I saw my body on the table. The surgeons were hunched over my body, conferring with one another, their voices strained. Something must have gone very wrong.

I kept rising upward. The scene below me disappeared, and I came to a space of swirling lights. Reds, to blues, greens, yellows, all spinning together in a mesmerizing display. The lights were comforting, as if beckoning me to follow. As I moved along, I heard voices. Singing voices. The melody was enchanting, but I couldn’t make out the words. That is, until a chorus of voices announced over the singing: “Mike’s coming home!”

“No,” I heard a commanding voice say. “He is just here for a visit.”

In a sudden burst of energy, I was transported to a place of blinding white light. It surrounded me and stretched on endlessly. I felt only pure peace and joy. I’d never experienced such bliss before. I was in heaven but, as that divine voice had said, only there for a visit. I knew what I needed to do. I called out into the light—not with my voice but with my soul.

“I want to thank my organ donor.”

A presence materialized behind my left shoulder. I turned and saw two figures approaching. I could see only the outlines of their forms, shimmering and iridescent. I recognized one as Jesus, and the other alongside him as my anonymous donor.

“Thank you,” I communicated. With every bit of my essence, I exuded pure gratitude. “Thank you.”

I sensed that the donor accepted my gratitude with humility. Jesus put his hand on my shoulder.

“These are your lungs now,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

With that, I fell backward, the space of light turning into a speck before disappearing entirely. I was back in my body on the operating table at the hospital for a moment, then everything went black.

I’d later learn that I was in a coma for 10 days. During the transplant, the first lung went in fine. After the second lung was put it, the surgeon released a clamp too early. I’d bled out and needed to be resuscitated. Only through the staff’s best efforts had I been brought back. I was hooked up to a machine that breathed for me until I regained consciousness. Despite everything that had happened, the transplant was successful. I had my new lungs.

The road to recovery was long and hard. I needed weekly surgeries to clean my lungs for the first few months. Then I started going in for monthly blood tests to make sure my body wasn’t rejecting the organs.

Through it all, I often thought of what I’d experienced. It allowed me to focus on getting healthy so I could live my new life to the fullest. Today I continue working in ministry, while advocating for funding studies about IPF. I can even sing again. And I do it all using the lungs God gave me.

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