Archives For Miracles

When Jamie was in Vanderbilt and we were just starting to learn about brain death, I told the doctor that I had read about a boy named Zak Dunlap from Oklahoma who was involved in a four wheeler accident and was in a coma. Zak was declared brain dead 36 hours after flipping his four wheeler. Zak was an organ donor and the family was making arrangements to honor his request.

It was the one little bit of information I had been able to attain in trying to research brain death during visits in and out with Jamie since we were told he was brain dead.

Here is the interview with his parents,and his cousins who were both nurses.

Someone who had an especially difficult time telling Zack goodbye was his adoring grandmother.

Naomi Blackford: I went in and I prayed right there.

Natalie Morales:What were you asking for?

Naomi Blackford:Just a miracle. That he was too young for God to take him. It wasn’t time.

That’s when everything changed. Divine intervention, said his family, that would be set in motion by Dan and Christy Coffin — Zack’s cousins who were also both nurses.

Christie Coffin: I sat there and I just said to him, “Zack, if you’re in there, if you can hear me, ask God to help you.” And I mean it probably wasn’t 10 minutes later, I started getting this different feeling in my gut. And I thought, “he’s not ready.”

Dan wondered the same thing as he looked at the monitor to study Zack’s vital signs.

Dan Coffin: Things were just looking better to me.

Natalie Morales: What did you do?

Dan Coffin: I grabbed his foot. I pulled my pocket knife out.  And I just scraped from his heel up to his toes.

Dan and Christy said they got the shock of their lives.

Dan Coffin: He jerked his foot plumb out of my hand.

Was it possible? Was Zack still alive?

Brenda Ysasaga: My first emotion was disbelief, of course.

Brenda Ysasaga, one of the nurses in the room at the time, wasn’t buying it, saying it was a reflex not uncommon even from those who are brain dead — and certainly not indicative of life.

Natalie Morales: There was no way for you to think that there was going to be a possibility that he could still be alive?

Brenda Ysasaga: No.

Needing to challenge even his own skepticism, Dan said…

Dan Coffin: “Let’s try this.” So I grabbed Zack’s arm and I stuck my fingernail underneath his fingernail. You know that’s a tender area. And Zack just threw his hand over here. And by now this kind of —

Natalie Morales: So he physically moved his arm–

Dan Coffin: He physically moved his hand away from me, across his body.

Christie Coffin: And I kind of drew up inside myself, you know, and I’m like, “oh my God.”

Brenda Ysasaga: My first reaction was, “I need Dr. Mercer.”

Dr. Mercer: I, indeed, verified that these were purposeful movements.

Purposeful movement — rather than a reflex twitch is a telltale sign of brain activity. Suddenly, four hours after Zack was declared brain dead, his room was bustling. Pam and Doug were out in the hall, getting ready to head back in to spend their final hours with their son, when they were stopped.

Pam Dunlap: And the lady that we’d been talking to from the organ liaison came in and sat down with us. And she said, “everything has stopped.”

Natalie Morales: “Everything has stopped,” meaning…?

Doug Dunlap: Towards the organ donation.

Pam Dunlap: Everything is on hold. And I’m just like, “What is going on?”

Meanwhile, Kacy, who had heard the commotion coming from her brother’s room, peeked in.

Kacy Dunlap: I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” Because, I mean, he moved.

Kacy made a beeline for her grandmother.

Naomi Blackford: 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.

Pam Dunlap: We went from the lowest possible moment to “Oh, my gosh–“

Doug Dunlap: “Our son’s alive.”

Pam Dunlap: “Our son is alive.”

Natalie Morales: I imagine you’re still though not getting your hopes up because you don’t know.

Pam Dunlap: We were very guarded. We had no idea what we were facing.

Zack’s doctor was even more measured.

Dr. Mercer: I still didn’t think that Zack was going to have a good outcome. I thought, well, OK, well, he’s not brain dead, but he’s pretty close to it.

But the boy who had struggled valiantly to learn to read and write was now fighting hard to hang in. In fact, he did better than that. Five days after Zack “returned to life,” he opened his eyes.

Zak left the hospital 48 days after he was declared brain dead.

Dr. Paul A. Byrne is a neonatologist and a Clinical Professor of Pediatrist at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Ohio. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and past-President of the Catholic Medical Association. He is the producer of the film Continuum of Life and the author of Life Support and Death, Beyond Brain Death, and Brain Death is Not Death. Dr. Byrne has presented testimony on life-death issues to eight state legislatures beginning in 1967.

Dr. Byrne, told 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” says Dr. Byrne.