Answers to Common Questions about To Heaven and Back

Where is Jesus in this story?

I believe Jesus was holding me, comforting me, and reassuring me when I was drowning. I also believe that it was with Jesus I was conversing when sitting in the beautiful field during my out-of-body experiences. I did not clearly state this when I initially wrote my book because I still felt uncomfortable with this claim. I am an ordinary person and it seemed so presumptuous and arrogant to think that Jesus would take the time to be with me.

Do you belong to a church?

I regularly attend church services and have served on the board of elders, but I believe that loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength is of the greatest importance. I live in a beautiful and mountainous area, and many people claim the mountains as their church and believe they can worship God there instead of within a church. That can certainly be true, but the question - as is often posed by my pastor - is not can a person worship God while in the mountains, but will that person worship God while in the mountains.

Regardless of the harm that some individuals have done throughout the years in the name of God or while hiding behind the doors of the church, I believe the institution is greater than the individuals within it. Churches provide a place of gathering for people who share common beliefs, supporting and encouraging each other in faith, offer place to find insight into and teaching about God’s Word, and provide a time and place where people can leave the world behind and focus only on their spiritual life. Just as God can meet us wherever we are, the variety of denominations allows for accommodation of people in all stages of spiritual growth.

Are you just doing this for the money?

I, too, am skeptical of the motivation of many people, but God has given me these experiences for a purpose, and I am trying to be obedient to what He has asked of me. Proceeds from the sale of this book help support several non-profit organizations (the current list of charities supported can be found on the “Giving Back” page of my website).

Why did it take so long to write your book?

I believe that the fact that I really, really did not want to return to Earth is an important part of my story. At the time of my kayaking accident, my four children were quite young and other than telling my close friends and church about it, I didn't speak much about my experiences because I never wanted my children to think that they weren't enough of a reason for me to come back. I was a surgeon, wife, mother of four, which did not allow much time for writing and, frankly, I didn't want to do it. I was not a writer and was a very private person. Ultimately, God's timing is always perfect; I finished writing the first completed draft hours before my son's death.

Why should I believe you? Aren't you just trying to convince people of your way of believing?

The job I was given was to share my experiences as accurately and precisely as I can. This is all I am trying to do.

What did Jesus look like?

I believe Jesus was holding me when I was still underwater. At that point, I heard him speaking to me, but did not see him. I believe it was Jesus with whom I was conversing when in the sun-kissed field during my later out of body experiences. He was sitting on a rock while I was sitting on the ground and, like the people who led me down the path to Heaven, he was wearing some sort of flowing robe and exploded with beauty and brilliance. His hair was long. His features were indistinct. I don’t know how to describe this but my greatest impression of his appearance was that of love (yes, I realize we don’t typically “see” love, but like I said, I don’t know how to describe this phenomenon of “seeing” something we would normally “feel”). He conveyed the impression of complete love, compassion, kindness, and infinite patience.

Did you see pets?

I did not see animals, but I only experienced a couple of places and have no idea about the things and places that I did not experience.

What were your injuries, and why didn’t you arrange for a medical evacuation?

I was surprised that readers wanted to know the details of my injuries, but here they are: In one leg, I suffered a tibial plateau fracture, a meniscal tear, and tears of the posterior cruciate ligament, the posterior capsule, and the collateral ligaments of my knee. In the other leg, I suffered a proximal tibia and fibula fracture, and tears of the posterior capsule, collateral ligaments, and a stretch of the posterior cruciate ligament. Basically, my knees bent entirely backward upon themselves in order for my body to exit the kayak. By the time I arrived in the emergency room, I also had developed a pneumonia and severe respiratory distress syndrome (basically a shock reaction of the lungs to trauma), which is a condition that dramatically decreases the ability of the lungs to transfer oxygen to the blood stream. Supplemental oxygen and supportive care is important, but other than allowing time for the lungs to heal, there is no particularly effective treatment for this condition and it often leads to death. I initially had oxygen saturation levels in the 40s (normal levels should be 80-100), increasing to the 60s with supplemental oxygen. Generally, these levels are not sustainable without expecting severe organ damage. I developed deep venous thrombosis in my legs, which required anticoagulation, and I underwent multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. I did not suffer brain injury and eventually my legs healed as well as could be expected; I certainly live with the long term consequences of my physical injuries, but I have been able to return to many physical recreational activities.

We should have called for a medical evacuation. Although it turned out “okay” for me, it was foolish and ill-conceived, and not something I would ever recommend. I had decided to fly home to be with my children, and I rationalized that since I myself was a doctor, that my legs had been splinted, and that I would be traveling with another physician (my husband), all would be fine. However, I was certainly in a state of shock and felt little connection to the cares of this world; my husband was in a state of shock too. Someone could have told us we were not thinking clearly, but we were the only physicians and I think everyone deferred to our judgment (or lack thereof). Frankly, I am embarrassed by this part of my story.

What were you religious beliefs before the kayaking accident and did they change afterward?

Before my near-death experience, I was a Christian and believed that the Bible was the absolute and historically accurate word of God. I was not, however, what anyone would call deeply spiritual or deeply religious and had no preconceived notions about life after death. My NDE changed me profoundly in both spiritual and religious ways. I now know the promises of God to be true, that there is a life after death, and that our spiritual life is eternal. While recognizing the limitations of organized religion, I fully participate in and support it.

How have you been changed?

The absolute knowledge that God is real, has a plan for each of us, and that there really is life after death changed the way I experience each day. I do not fear death and that also changes the way I experience the death of others, even my own son. I know that every day really does matter and that I need to be about God’s business every day. I also know that God loves all people deeply and unconditionally…even those people who I may not like or agree with. It motivates me to try to see the beauty in them that God sees.

How can these experiences be applied to others or used to face challenges?

I have given many details of my life in order not that anyone try to replicate them but to show others that if you can transform your faith into trust, you can face any challenge with a grateful and joyful heart. What I mean is this: a small child has hope; hope that God will do what He says He will do. By hearing about and seeing God working in the lives of others, that hope transforms into a faith that God will really do what He says He will do. Not everyone has a profound spiritual experience such as a near-death experience, but taking the time to really look at the patterns of your everyday life and noting how events seem to unfold in a manner that is unlikely a result of chance allows any person of faith to begin to see God working in their own life. I think it is only when a person truly sees God working in their own life that this faith can transform into a complete trust that God’s promises are true. Complete trust that God has a beautiful plan that is one with a hope and a future allows me, and each of us, to face challenges with confidence and courage, even when the plan and its beauty seems hidden.