By John Jalsevac
OKLAHOMA, March 27, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - 21-year-old Zack Dunlap, a man who was diagnosed as "brain dead" and who was mere minutes away from having his organs harvested, now says, four months after the accident that brought him to the brink of death, that he feels "pretty good." Dunlap’s story was told in an NBC piece aired earlier this week, in which the young man himself was interviewed.
While Zack’s case is being touted in the media as a "miracle", a neonatologist and expert on brain-death has told LifeSiteNews.com that Zack’s case, while remarkable in a sense, is not as rare as the mainstream media’s reporting makes it seem.
"The young man was never dead," said Dr. Paul Byrne, a former president of the Catholic Medical Association who began writing about brain death in 1977. What makes Dunlap’s case unusual, though not unheard of, says Byrne, is that Zack was lucky enough to be found out to be alive before his vital organs were removed.
"While the story is put out as something that’s miraculous," he told LifeSiteNews.com, "I don’t want to take anything away from God, but it’s not supernatural what occurred. If there is anything miraculous about it, it is that they didn’t get his organs before someone was able to notice some sort of other response. He was always living - his heart was always beating, there was always blood pressure, he was always very much alive."
Dr. Byrne says that over the years he has collected information pertaining to numerous cases where patients labeled brain dead have "returned from the dead." The reason being, says Byrne, is that "brain death is never really death."
Zack Dunlap suffered numerous broken bones and severe head trauma last November after he was involved in an accident, in which he lost control of the four-wheeler he was driving and flipped over. At the hospital doctors diagnosed the young warehouse worker as "brain dead". Oklahoma officials were informed that Zack was legally dead and that his organs were about to be harvested.
"We wanted to make sure that some lucky person got to live on through Zack’s heart," Zack’s mother Pam told NBC.
Plans to remove her son’s organs, however, were put on hold in a dramatic fashion.
Two of Zack’s cousins, both nurses, said that, in the final moments before the medical team that was to harvest Zack’s organs arrived, they felt that their cousin wasn’t truly gone. On a hunch Dan Coffin ran his pocket knife across Zack’s foot. The supposedly brain dead patient reacted immediately by jerking back his foot. Coffin then dug his fingernail beneath Zack’s fingernail, a particularly tender spot on the body, and his cousin once again reacted by drawing his arm across his body.
"We went from the lowest possible moment to, ‘Oh, my gosh, our son is still alive!’" related Pam Dunlap.
Zack’s grandmother said that she too felt, like Zack’s cousins, that her grandson wasn’t ready to go. Shortly before her grandson began to show signs of life again, she had gone into his room and prayed for a miracle. "He was too young for God to take him," she said tearfully in the NBC interview. "It wasn’t time."
"I had heard of miracles all my life. But I had never seen a miracle. But I have seen a miracle. I’ve got proof of it," she said.
"We both feel that God has some big plan for Zack. We’ll do everything in our power to help him pursue it - whatever it is," said Dunlap’s mother.
The young man himself told NBC that he heard the doctors pronounce him brain dead, and said, "I’m glad I couldn’t get up and do what I wanted to do." When asked what he wanted to do, he responded, "There probably would have been a broken window they went out."
"It just makes me thankful, it makes me thankful that they didn’t give up," he said about his relatives’ last attempts to find out if he was still alive. "Only the good die young, so I didn’t go."
Zack’s father, Doug Dunlap, says that he doesn’t blame anyone, indicating that the doctors assured him that his son was dead, and that there was no blood-flow to his brain. "They said he was brain-dead, that there would be no life, so we were preparing ourselves."
48 days after Zack’s accident, the young man returned home, walking on his own two feet. He still suffers some emotional problems, memory loss and other consequences from the accident, and a full recovery may take up to a year. But his parents say that are simply thankful that their son is alive.
Dr. Byrne, on the other hand, told LifeSiteNews.com that Zack’s story should be taken as a warning about the insufficiency of the brain death criteria. "While this story tells the young man hearing them talking about his declaration of brain death, the question is, is how many of the other organ donors are in a similar situation, that the only thing is that they end up getting their organs?" he said.
"Brain death was concocted, it was made up in order to get organs. It was never based on science."
In 2007 Dr. John Shea, LifeSiteNews.com’s medical advisor, wrote in agreement with Byrne’s concerns about brain death, saying that the criteria of "brain death" is scientific theory, and not fact, adding that it is a theory that is particularly open to utilitarian abuse and therefore should be treated with extra caution. He also pointed out that there is the added trouble that there are a number of various sets of brain-death criteria, such that a person may be considered dead according to one, and not by another.
See previous LifeSiteNews.com stories on this issue:
Denver Coroner Rules "Homicide" in Organ-Donor Case
Russian Surgeons Removing Organs Saying Patients Almost Dead Anyway