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Video: Woman recounts life after death

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    >>> nbc.

    >>> do you believe in life after death? one man says he has scientific proof it is true. dr. jeffrey long, a radiation oncologist from louisiana, has written a book with his findings. he calls it "evidence of the afterlife." mary joe rapini says that she had a near-death experience that profoundly changed her life, and her story is featured in the doctor's book. good morning to you both.

    >> good morning.

    >> doctor, if i could start with you, you collected more than 1,000 stories of near-death experiences from people all around the world, and you say the consistencies in those stories helped prove scientifically that there is an afterlife. so, based on your data, what is the proof?

    >> well, my research reveals nine lines of evidence about the reality of near-death experiences and their consistent message of an afterlife.

    >> can you give me an example of some of the nine lines of evidence?

    >> well, one good line of evidence is that those that are blind, including blind from birth, can have visual near-death experiences, not as fragments, but as fully visual impressions during their near-death experiences just like visual impressions during other near-death experiences.

    >> and no matter what the age of the person, it doesn't matter, the experience is the same essentially?

    >> my research involved a study of young children age 5 and under, and i found the content of their near-death experiences absolutely identical to older children and adults, suggesting that whether you know about near-death experiences, what your cultural upbringing is, what your awareness of death is doesn't seem to have any effect on the content of the near-death experience.

    >> mary jo , you claim to have had a near-death experience.

    >> yes.

    >> you suffered an experience at a gym. when was this?

    >> april of '03.

    >> and you were taken to a hospital and what happened?

    >> for three days, they couldn't locate the aneurism, so basically, they put me in an icu and were just monitoring me. and then one night, the third night i got very ill, and i remember they were all of a sudden rushing around me and putting, inserting things into me and monitors, and they called my husband, and he was there. and i looked up and i saw this light. it wasn't a normal light. it was different. it was illuminescent, and it grew -- and i kept looking at it and it grew large and i went into it. and i went into this tunnel and i came into this room that was just beautiful, and god held me. he called me by name and he told me, he said, " mary jo , you can't stay."

    >> and i understand you wanted to stay.

    >> i wanted to stay. i protested. i said, "i can't stay? why not?" and i started talking about all the reasons, i was a good wife, i was a good mother, i did 24-hour care with cancer patients. and he said, "let me ask you one thing. have you ever loved another the way you've been loved here?" and i said, "no, it's impossible, i'm a human," and then it just held me and it said "you can do better."

    >> were you a skeptic before this about --

    >> yes!

    >> you were?

    >> yes. i was working with cancer patients prior to this happening. i was getting ready to move to houston. i was probably at the lowest point in any faith. i had seen terrible things in that cancer center, people dying. and when i would go in and they would tell me they saw things, i would respond -- i would just sit there and they would say, "can you see them?" and i would say, "no, i can't see them," and then i would leave the room and tell the resident, you'd better check their morphine level.

    >> let me ask you something -- and i don't doubt you saw what you said, but there is something called cultural conditioning. we've all heard you go through the tunnel, there's the light, you meet god or whatever you call that force, and you're told it's not your time. so, how do you know that mary jo wasn't just kind of experiencing that, maybe she was on certain drugs in the hospital?

    >> well, out of 1,300 near-death experiences that i've studied, mary jo 's experience is absolutely typical of what people describe. i think if near-death experiences were culturally determined, then people that had never heard of near-death experiences would have a different experience. but we're not finding that. whether you know or don't know about near-death experience at the time it happens has no effect on whether the experience happens or not or what the content is.

    >> all right. doctor, i appreciate it very much. mary jo , as well, for your time. pretty controversial book . it's going to get a lot of people talking. the book, again, is called "the evidence of the afterlife." dr. long and

TODAY contributor
updated 1/20/2010 10:47:26 AM ET 2010-01-20T15:47:26

The near-death experience story is so common that it has become a bit of a cliché: A medical patient, hanging in a murky limbo between life and death, is drawn through a tunnel of bright light, meets their maker, and is told they must return to the land of living.

But that scenario played out letter-perfectly for Mary Jo Rapini. And her story is getting firm backing by a doctor who has studied some 1,300 near-death experiences. Medical doctor Jeffrey Long chronicles Rapini’s story, along with his own research, in a new book: “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences.”

In the book, Long contends his study shows that accounts of near-death experiences play out remarkably similarly among the people who have had them, crossing age and cultural boundaries to such a degree that they can’t be chalked up simply to everyone having seen the same Hollywood movie.

Through a tunnel
Appearing with Dr. Long on TODAY Wednesday, Rapini related her near-death experience to Meredith Vieira. A clinical psychologist, Rapini had long worked with terminal cancer patients, and when they told her of their near-death experiences, she would often chalk their stories up as a reaction to their pain medication.

But in April 2003, she faced her own mortality. Rapini told Vieira she suffered an aneurysm while working out a gym and was rushed to the hospital. She was in an intensive care unit for three days when she took a turn for the worse.

“All of a sudden [doctors] were rushing around me and inserting things into me, and they called my husband,” she told Vieira.

“I looked up and I saw this light; it wasn’t a normal light, it was different. It was luminescent.  And it grew. I kept looking at it like, ‘What is that?’ Then it grew large and I went into it.

“I went into this tunnel, and I came into this room that was just beautiful. God held me, he called me by name, and he told me, ‘Mary Jo, you can’t stay.’ And I wanted to stay. I protested. I said, ‘I can’t stay? Why not?’ And I started talking about all the reasons; I was a good wife, I was a good mother, I did 24-hour care with cancer patients.

“And he said, ‘Let me ask you one thing — have you ever loved another the way you’ve been loved here?’ And I said, ‘No, it’s impossible. I’m a human.’ And then he just held me and said, ‘You can do better.’ ”

While Rapini’s account may seem far-fetched to naysayers, Long says her recollections mirror nearly all stories of near-death experiences. When Vieira asked Long whether Rapini might be prone to cultural conditioning — surely she heard similar stories before — he said her story is untouched by preconceived notions.

Crossing cultures and ages
“I think if near-death experiences were culturally determined, then people that had never heard of near-death experiences would have a different experience,” Long argued. “But we’re not finding that. Whether you know or don’t know about near-death experiences at the time it happens, it has no effect on whether the experience happens or not, or what the content is.”

In his book, Long details nine lines of evidence that he says send a “consistent message of an afterlife.” Among them are crystal-clear recollections, heightened senses, reunions with deceased family members and long-lasting effects after the person is brought back to life.

In his book “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences,” Dr. Jeffrey Long reports on some 1,300 near-death accounts.
Long noted that he was especially fascinated that very small children who have near-death experiences almost always recount the same stories as adults, even if the concept of death isn’t fully formed in their minds.

“My research involved experiences of young children age 5 and under, and I found the content of their near-death experiences is absolutely identical to older children and adults,” he told Vieira. “It suggests that whether you know about near-death experiences, what your cultural upbringing is, what your awareness of death is, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on the content of the near-death experience.”

Long, a radiation oncologist, said that writing his book has actually made him a better doctor, as well as a believer in the afterlife.

“[It] profoundly changed me as a physician,” he said. “I could fight cancer more courageously. I found patients who died, it wasn’t the end. It made me more compassionate and more confident.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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