Lazarus syndrome or autoresuscitation after failed cardiopulmonary resuscitation is the spontaneous return of circulation after failed attempts at resuscitation. Its occurrence has been noted in medical literature at least 38 times since 1982. Also called Lazarus phenomenon, it takes its name from Lazarus who, according to the New Testament, was raised from the dead by Jesus.
Occurrences of the syndrome are extremely rare and the causes are not well understood. One theory for the phenomenon is that a chief factor (though not the only one) is the buildup of pressure in the chest as a result of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The relaxation of pressure after resuscitation efforts have ended is thought to allow the heart to expand, triggering the heart's electrical impulses and restarting the heartbeat. Other possible factors are hyperkalemia or high doses of epinephrine.
Daphne Banks overdosed on drugs in Huntingdon, U.K. on December 31, 1996. She was declared dead at Hinchingbrooke Hospital early the next day. She was found snoring at a mortuary 34 hours later.
A 27-year-old man in the UK collapsed after overdosing on heroin and cocaine. Paramedics gave him an injection, and he recovered enough to walk to the ambulance. He went into cardiac arrest in transit. After 25 minutes of resuscitation efforts, the patient was verbally declared dead. About a minute after resuscitation ended, a nurse noticed a rhythm on the heart monitor and resuscitation was resumed. The patient recovered fully.
A 66-year-old man suffering from a suspected abdominal aneurysm who, during treatment for this condition, suffered cardiac arrest and received chest compressions and defibrillation shocks for 17 minutes. Vital signs did not return; the patient was declared dead and resuscitation efforts ended. Ten minutes later, the surgeon felt a pulse. The aneurysm was successfully treated and the patient fully recovered with no lasting physical or neurological problems.
Judith Johnson, 61, went into cardiac arrest at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Delaware in May, 2007. She was given "multiple medicines and synchronized shocks", but never regained a pulse. She was declared dead at 8:34 p.m. but was discovered in the morgue to be alive and breathing. She sued the medical center where it happened for damages due to physical and neurological problems stemming from the event.
Michael Wilkinson, 23, was found collapsed in Preston, U.K. on February 1, 2009. He was sent to Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire where medical staff gave him drugs and worked on him for 15 minutes before declaring him dead. Half an hour later, a pulse was found. He survived for two days, and a post-mortem examination found an undiagnosed heart condition.
A 45-year-old woman in Colombia was pronounced dead, as there were no vital signs showing she was alive. Later, a funeral worker noticed the woman moving and alerted his co-worker that the woman should go back to the hospital.
A 65-year-old man in Malaysia came back to life two-and-a-half hours after doctors at Seberang Jaya Hospital, Penang pronounced him dead. He died three weeks later.
Lorna Baillie, 49, collapsed in East Lothian, U.K. at 4:30 p.m. on February 10, 2012. Medics at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary spent three hours trying to revive her before declaring her technically dead at 8:45 p.m. She was in a coma and had been kept artificially alive with adrenaline and would not be pronounced medically dead until she stopped breathing. 45 minutes later, her family found signs of improvement. A pulse was found, and she was revived.
Anthony Yahle, 37, in Bellbrook, Ohio, USA was breathing abnormally at 4 a.m. on Aug 5, 2013 and could not be woken. He was given CPR, and first responders shocked him several times and found a heartbeat. That afternoon, he coded for 45 minutes at Kettering Medical Center and was pronounced dead. His heart showed signs of activity after his son, Lawrence, saw him lying on the table and said, "Dad, you're not going to die today." The doctors were then able to revive him.
Walter Williams, 78, from Lexington, Mississippi, was at home when his hospice nurse called a coroner who arrived and declared him dead at 9 p.m. on February 26, 2014. Once at a funeral home, he was found to be moving. The next day he was well enough to be talking with family. He had a defibrillator implanted in his chest.
The Lazarus Syndrome raises ethical issues for physicians, who must determine when medical death has occurred, resuscitation efforts should end, and post-mortem procedures such as autopsies and organ harvesting may take place. One doctor wrote, "Perhaps it is a supreme hubris on our part to presume that we can reliably distinguish the reversible from the irreversible, or the salvageable from the nonsalvageable."
Medical literature has recommended observation of a patient's vital signs for five to ten minutes after cessation of resuscitation before certifying death.