Dr. Mary C. Neal is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and former director of spine surgery at the University of Southern California. Although Dr. Neal believed in God, she often looked at the world through scientific eyes. Her vision changed the day she drowned in a kayak accident, went to heaven, and then returned to earth. She writes of this experience in her book To Heaven and Back.
While cascading down a waterfall in South America, she was pinned underwater in her kayak and drowned. “Many have described my accident as terrible and tragic,” says Dr. Neal, “I describe it as one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.”
When kayaking companions pulled her purple, bloated, oxygen-starved body to the shore, Mary Neal’s eyes were devoid of life. Approximately fourteen minutes passed before CPR was administered. As her friends tried to resuscitate, they called out, “Mary, you cannot leave us. We know you are here. Come back. Please take a breath!” Finally, she took a large gasping breath.
Later, in the emergency room, her oxygen levels were dangerously low and did not respond to the administration of oxygen. Mary’s internist explained to her husband that she would probably not make it through the night. However, when friends heard the prognosis they prayed fervently. They prayed that God would save her life and heal her body. And they asked that He would supply emotional strength for the family. They prayed intensely, passionately, and specifically. One friend went home and continued to pray until four in the morning, when suddenly she felt like she could rest from her prayers. According to medical records, at 4 A.M., Dr. Neal’s vital signs stabilized.
Mary recalls her impressions at the time of the accident: “While my body was being sucked out of the boat, I felt as though my soul was slowly peeling itself away from my body. It felt as if I had finally shaken off my heavy outer layer, freeing my soul.” She describes a joyous welcoming committee: “human spirits sent by God to guide me across the divide of time and dimension that separates our world from God’s.”
On the other side, Mary remembers looking down at the scene on the river bank: “My body looked like the shell of a comfortable old friend. I could hear people calling my name and begging me to take another breath. I loved them and did not want them to be sad, so I asked my heavenly companions to wait while I returned to my body, lay down, and took a breath.”
Dr. Mary Neal has been forever changed by this experience. She has a new understanding of her purpose on earth, a more vivid awareness of God, and a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. She says, “I now know the promises of God to be true, that there is a life after death, and our spiritual life is eternal.” She believes that God has a beautiful plan for each of us, and that it is one with hope that allows us to face challenges with confidence and courage, even when the plan and its beauty seem hidden.