'The doctors had given up. They said her heart had stopped and she had brain damage. But she's fine'

Jeremy Laurance on the miracle of the woman who came back from the dead – and why it matters for us all

I have shaken her hand, held her gaze and spent more than an hour chatting with Tasleem Rafiq and her children and I can report that she is no ghost. The 52-year-old mother of four is very much alive.

Quite how she comes to be alive is, however, a medical mystery. A month ago, she had a heart attack and stopped breathing. What happened next has astonished doctors, shocked her family and raised questions about medical practice. For Mrs Rafiq has returned from the dead.

Sitting in her terraced house in Reading, which she shares with three of her children, she shows no sign of the ordeal she has endured. "God will take you when he chooses. Everyone was praying and God said: 'I am going to leave this lady.' I am a very lucky mother," she said. She does not want her picture in a national newspaper but she looks younger than her 52 years.

She has had multiple sclerosis for 20 years, cannot walk and occasionally gets chest infections which develop into pneumonia, requiring hospital admission. But on 14 September, she collapsed. An ambulance was called and resuscitation commenced. It continued, on the floor of the front room, in the ambulance on the way to the Royal Berkshire Hospital and in the accident-and-emergency (A&E) department, but without success.

Her son Fezaen, 28, said: "We were waiting [in the A&E department] when the doctor came out and said: 'I have to tell you that we have been trying to get your mother's heart started for 45 minutes and we haven't had any luck. Unfortunately she has died.'"

The family, in shock, asked to see the body, to bid goodbye. They were shown into a private room and warned that because their mother had been injected with adrenalin her body would make involuntary movements and they should not think that these were signs of life. It was 11.30am.

Fezaen said: "She was lying with her eyes rolled back gasping. We were sitting with her praying. I was on the right and my brother was on the left when he said, 'She's looking at you.' We called the nurse and asked if that was normal. She said yes, it was quite normal."

Over the next two hours, this scenario was played out several times as the family struggled to convince nurses that their mother might still be alive. A doctor was summoned, who examined the "corpse" and declared there was, indeed, a faint pulse.

But doctors assessed her twice, found her unresponsive and concluded that, though she was alive, she would have suffered irreversible brain damage and would be likely to die soon. They advised if she had a second cardiac arrest, she should not be resuscitated, a prospect which alarmed her family.

At around 10pm, her daughter Shabana was sitting holding her hand and noticed her pulling it away. "Mum, if I have done something to upset you, tell me," she said. Mrs Rafiq turned to her and said: "What have you done to upset me?" It was the signal the family had been praying for.

By next morning, she was chatting and joking with her family as her memory returned. On 2 October, she was discharged home, alert and alive.

Doctors caring for Mrs Rafiq described her recovery as "a miracle", according to the family. David Mossop, lead consultant in emergency-care medicine at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, was more cautious. He said the resuscitation protocol had been followed correctly and after 45 minutes, and with blood tests showing "profound acidosis" – lack of oxygen – "you would expect a severe amount of brain damage".

But there was none. "That is very unusual," he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition