A 76-year-old woman who was declared dead by a doctor in Ecuador shocked her relatives and mourners when she was found alive and breathing in her coffin at her own wake on Monday.
Bella Montoya, a retired nurse from Babahoyo, a city about 70 kilometers northeast of Guayaquil, was admitted to the Martín Icaza Hospital on Friday with a possible stroke and cardiac arrest. She did not respond to resuscitation and was pronounced dead by a doctor on duty. Her son, Gilberto Barbera, said he received a death certificate from the hospital stating that she had suffered cardiopulmonary arrest after a stroke.
She was placed in a coffin and taken to a funeral parlor, where her relatives held a wake before her planned burial. After almost five hours, they opened the coffin to change her clothes and found her alive and struggling to breathe.
“My mum started to move her left hand, to open her eyes, her mouth; she struggled to breathe,” Mr. Barbera told BBC News. He also said he lifted up the coffin and heard her heart pounding and her left hand hitting the coffin.
He called 911 and waited for an ambulance to arrive. A video posted on social media showed Ms. Montoya lying in an open coffin with an oxygen mask on her face, while people around her prayed and cried. She was taken back to the same hospital that declared her dead and put on oxygen.
Mr. Barbera said his mother was in intensive care but responsive. “My mum is on oxygen, her heart is stable. The doctor pinched her hand and she reacted, they tell me that’s good because it means she is reacting little by little,” he said.
The incident has sparked an investigation by Ecuador’s health ministry, which has set up a committee to perform a medical audit to establish responsibilities for the alleged confirmation of death and review how the hospital issues death certificates.
“It gave us all a fright,” Mr. Barbera said, adding that the doctors have said his mother’s situation remains dire.
Ms. Montoya is not the only person to come back to life after being officially declared dead. In February, an 82-year-old woman in New York was found to be breathing while lying in a funeral home three hours after being pronounced dead at a nursing home.
Dr. Stuart Hughes, a senior lecturer in medicine at Anglia Ruskin University’s School of Medicine in Chelmsford, England, said such cases are very uncommon but he pointed out that “death is a process”.
“Sometimes somebody may look like they’re dead but they’re not quite dead,” Dr. Hughes told BBC News. “Careful examination is necessary to confirm death.” He said that some factors such as low body temperature or certain drugs can slow down body processes and give the appearance of death.
– ‘Dead’ woman found breathing in the coffin, BBC News, 13 June 2023
– Elderly Woman Declared Dead in Ecuador Shockingly Comes Back to Life, Banging on Coffin During Her Wake, Yahoo News, 13 June 2023
– Woman presumed dead found alive in the coffin at her wake in Ecuador, CNN, 13 June 2023
– Woman declared ‘dead’ found alive in the coffin during her own wake, Global News, 13 June 2023