A man in Spain, who was declared dead, was moments away from having his body autopsied when he began to snore, alerting doctors that he was actually still alive.
According to the Spanish news outlet La Voz de Asturias, Gonzalo Montoya Jiménez, a prisoner at a jail in northern Spain, was found unconscious in his cell on Sunday and was believed to be dead. In fact, three forensic doctors declared him dead.
Montoya Jiménez was reportedly found in his cell around 8 a.m. and was believed dead for nearly four hours until he started making noise on the autopsy table.
According to his family, Montoya Jiménez’s body even had the marks painted on it to guide the autopsy.
He has now regained consciousness and is in the intensive care unit at the Central University Hospital of Asturias (HUCA) in Oviedo, Spain.
But how, exactly, does something like this happen? Determining whether someone is dead or alive might sound simple enough, but there are not universal guidelines for exactly when doctors should pronounce someone dead.
“You’re dead when a doctor says you’re dead,” Dr. James Bernat, a neurologist at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire, told Live Science in a 2014 interview.
Broadly speaking, a person may be declared dead when one of two things happens: Their heart stops beating and doesn’t start again, or they are “brain-dead.” A person is considered brain-dead when he or she no longer has any neurological activity in the brain or brain stem — meaning no electrical impulses are being sent between brain cells.
Doctors perform a number of tests to determine whether someone is brain-dead, such as checking whether the individual can initiate his or her own breath, Dr. Diana Greene-Chandos, an assistant professor of neurological surgery and neurology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Live Science in a 2014 interview.
Jiménez’s family said Jiménez had epilepsy, and they suspect the condition may have played a role in the unusual circumstances of his presumed death, according to La Voz de Asturias. Some people with epilepsy can experience a condition called catalepsy, or a “trancelike” state in which their muscles become rigid and they are unresponsive to stimuli.
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