Ken Davison, 61, saw a varicose vein in the leg of Daphne Banks twitch - then heard her snore. "It was an absolute miracle. It was just a wonderful feeling," he said.
Mr Davison, a friend of the Banks family and an undertaker for about 30 years, said he had noticed no signs of life when he and a colleague, Gary Morris, 32, arrived at Mrs Banks's home at Stonely, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, on New Year's Day hours after a doctor had pronounced her dead. They lifted her body on to a stretcher and placed it in an ambulance.
When they arrived at the mortuary of nearby Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Mr Davison was left to examine the uncovered body, which was lying on a table, while Mr Morris and a mortician went to prepare a"body tray".
Mr Davison said that as he stood over her body "I could not believe it when I noticed that she had a vein in her right leg which seemed to twitch.
"I looked at her again and her chest started going in and out. I went to consult Gary and said the lady was still breathing and I don't think they believed me for a while. Then I said, 'Actually I have heard her snore twice'."
Mr Davison realised she was still alive when she was minutes away from being put into a sealed body tray. "To think that it was somebody that I knew," he said. "To think that she had died in 1995 and lived again in 1996. It's just amazing."
Mr Morris and the mortician then examined the body and found a pulse and called the hospital crash team. "Before we knew what was happening there were doctors everywhere," Mr Davison said.
He admitted that the thought of what might have happened, had he not noticed the twitching vein, minutes from Mrs Banks being loaded into a tray continued to trouble him. "I have thought about that a lot. In fact, it has kept me awake at nights," he said.
But he added: "It was such a wonderful feeling that this could happen to me with somebody that I knew. It's the most amazing thing that has happened to me in my life."
Mr Davison said he had not been to visit Mrs Banks, who is recovering "satisfactorily" in Hinchingbrooke Hospital, but her husband, Claude, had telephoned him. "He thanked me very much. He said to me, 'I don't know what to say' and started breaking down. He said: 'We will have to have a cup of tea sometime'."
The senior doctor at the practice in the village where Mrs Banks lives refused to comment last night after returning to his home in Stonely, which is next door to the surgery.
Dr David Roberts said: "I cannot comment. I am bound by patient confidentiality."
Local authority officials refused to say which doctor declared Mrs Banks dead. The Banks family also refused to name the GP concerned.Reuse content