Dead man lives to tell about it
Boston Evening Globe, Boston, Massachusetts Tuesday, June 25, 1974
By Gloria Negri, Globe Staff
"You are not in the world, but in a 'condition' that is hard to describe in words. When you no longer have the accustomed sensory means of dealing with the world, when your body stops functioning, the spirit continues. It is another dimension. I know, I experienced this. I knew I was there," states Victor Solow, whose heart and bodily functions stopped for 23 minutes and who, "to all available standards," was medically dead.
The trim, wiry man jumps from the bulkhead onto the beach at Vineyard Haven, belying his 56 years and his claim that he was medically dead from cardiac arrest for 23 minutes last March.
The rule-of-thumb for survival after the heart stops is about six minutes: after that, brain cells die from lack of oxygen.
In Solow's case, trained rescuers were able to sustain enough heart and respiratory function to prevent brain death until he got to the hospital.
Solow was on the beach at Martha's Vineyard opening up the house he and his wife, Lucy, have had for years. He is alone and not afraid to be alone.
Yesterday, he headed back to his Mamaroneck, N.Y. home, his family and his profession as a maker of documentary films.
It all happened in Mamaroneck last March. It has just come to light because Victor Solow wrote some articles about his return from the dead only recently, for a local newspaper, with the hope that they would raise money for United Hospital in Port Chester, N.Y.
It is because of United Hospital's extensive work in advance emergency care and its training of local volunteers and police that Victor Solow says he is alive today. He has just come from his daily two-mile jog. He is wearing blue denims and is eager to get on with some sailing and household chores.
His hazel eyes appear serene as he tells his story. "I was returning from jogging with my wife. I was driving and luckily I was stopped at a traffic light. I felt something and that was it. I turned to my wife and said, 'Oh, Lucy!' but I couldn't finish the sentence."
Victor Solow, who had never been sick in his life and who had no history of heart trouble, had suffered heart stoppage, or cardiac arrest.
"What you have to understand," Solow said yesterday on the beach, "is that unless within four to six minutes you get oxygenated blood to the brain, pumped by the heart, you suffer brain damage."
While his heart was stopped for 23 minutes, Solow did not experience brain damage, except for a state of "psychic shock" for five days after he was revived. "I ate and did other things, but I didn't feel as if my body belonged to me."
Victor Solow ... 'one day at a time'
Doctors later told Solow he apparently escaped brain damage because they think that during the entire ordeal a sufficient amount of blood had reached the brain cells.
At his cry, his wife Lucy ran from the car to a nearby gasoline station but couldn't get the young attendant to call police. "He didn't want to get involved," Solow said. "Lucy thought she would drag me over to her seat and drive me to the hospital, but she couldn't manage that. She ran back to the station, and, now, the owner called the police."
He continued: "By accident, before the police were called, a local policeman, Jimmy Donellen, [Donnellan] came by in his cruiser and saw my car stopped in the middle of the road. He immediately recognized what it was. The color of my face had changed so radically.
"He got me out of the car and on the ground on my back. He immediately started artificial heart massage, or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. You have to know exactly what you're doing.
"Meanwhile, the police alert had gone to every cruising police car and the emergency squad (civilians), who wear small belt boxes. The police simply press a button, and the signal comes over the box. In Mamaroneck there are always four or five men wearing these belt boxes. They are all trained (by the hospital), in emergency medical techniques.
"When the alarm was sounded, one of the squad, Tom McCann, an executive of Young and Rubican in New York, was at another gas station across the street inspecting its fire equipment. He's also a volunteer fireman. He arrived about 10 seconds after the alert was sent out.
"Another policeman had arrived in his cruiser, meanwhile, and taken out his oxygen equipment, but that was of no use because my heart wasn't pumping. So they started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"To all effects and purposes, when you stop breathing and your heart stops, you are irreversibly dead within four to six minutes. Help started to arrive three minutes after my heart had stopped.
"The second policeman, Michael Senna, [Sena] arrived 30 seconds after that. He was also trained in the necessary emergency techniques. Every school child should be. Tom McCann arrived 10 seconds after that. Three men had arrived within the fourth minute. Under normal circumstances, the emergency men have to call police to find out where the accident is.
"But, when the police gave the alarm to the emergency squad five of them were changing shifts at a fire station about a mile away and just taking the boxes off their belts. Five of them piled into the ambulance and raced to me. That took an additional three minutes.
"They loaded me into the ambulance and continued the treatment ail the way to the hospital, the heart massage, the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The driver radioed the word, 'Code' to the hospital. It means a person is coming in who already is dead or may require resuscitation by trained physicians.
"Bv the time I arrived at the hospital there was a completely balanced staff of doctors available, two internists, two surgeons and two highly-trained therapists, two respiratory technicians and four nurses. When they got the body out at the hospital, there were 12 people standing by.
"Dr. Howard Roth, the senior surgeon who organized the program, said to all available standards, I was dead. I had no heartbeat, no respiration, no vital signs and my pupils were dilated. By now, 17 minutes had elapsed.
"They immediately opened veins in one leg – all my veins had collapsed – and injected medication in my arms and legs. Then they applied a defibrillator, and electric shock device to my heart. They also connected the heart to a visual screen, a cardioscope. There was absolutely no reading of heart beat.
"They applied the first electric shock, but no results. They thought, 'That's it.' Then, they decided to give me one more. On the second shock, the heart started beating again.
"Within 20 seconds after the second shock, I sat up on the table and said, 'What the hell am I doing here?' They had to restrain me from getting up. They were flabbergasted. They brought me to intensive care, but my heartbeat was still not quite correct, so they sedated me and gave me a third shock. It brought my heartbeat back to normal strength. It took 23 minutes in all and would not have been possible but for the training and cooperation between the hospital, police and civilians."
Solow was out of the hospital after 13 days.
The Experience: I knew I was 'there'
Q and A on the Experience
Yesterday, when he was asked. "Do you feel that you were dead?" Solow replied, "Yes."
Q. What does it feel like?
A. "Like you've been there and come back."
Q. What was it like "there?"
A. "People don't realize that you only understand reality in the world because you can breathe, see, hear, touch and taste. When you no longer have these means of dealing with the world, when your body stops functioning, the spirit continues.
"It is a dimension that can't be described by words. It is not a 'place.' I know I experienced it. I knew I was there. Your life 'there' is without all the hangups you have with an ego."
Q. Are you conscious you are 'there?'
A. "Not conscious the way you are in our world. A different form of consciousness."
Q. Is religion involved?
A. "I don't think you can connect this with religion, in a sense of organized thought, but you are 'someplace.' I don't know if you can call it a 'place.' It is more a condition."
Q. Were you afraid?
A. "There is nothing to be afraid of. It is a very relaxing experience. But, I do not say that applies to everybody. I don't suppose dying from a terrible disease is relaxing."
Q. Are you a fatalist?
A. "What is going to happen to you is going to happen. There was a man in New York who feared burglars and muggers. He put 11 locks on his door, but died in a fire because he couldn't get out. It is utterly absurd to live in a way to anticipate anything."
Q. Did you use to be afraid of dying?
A. "Yes, very much. Now, not in the least. Death is just a transition. It's like saying you are afraid of springtime."
Q. Are you now afraid to do things alone?
A. "No. The whole body takes care of itself. I still jog, swim and sail. Exercise is good, especially things that have to do more with endurance, than with strength. I watch what I eat. In September, I hope to go on a filming expedition on the Amazon. Sometime, I'd like to move to Vermont and start a film community there."
Q. How has your life changed?
A. "I no longer pay attention to all things that seemed important in the past. I look at the world differently. We are only on a visit here. I just live one day at a time."
Q. Anything else?
A. "Yes, I think I would like to charge $50 for every interview after this. Not for myself, of course, but to go to United Hospital so they can expand their program of emergency care. They are intending to put in telemetry equipment in ambulances so they can actively treat people who are being transported. They are now in the process of supplying ambulances to all emergency squads with radio communication equipment.
"It is appalling how inadequately trained ambulance personnel are in this country. They should know more than first aid. They should be highly-trained paramedics who can read cardiograms and do other such things. 
[1. Solow was fortunate to have specially trained personal as stated above. Also see from 4-part series: 4. The Rescue Squad ]
"Ambulances should be redesigned as small emergency rooms. They are still designed like small hearses. Death due to accidents in America in the ages between one and 45 is the highest in the country.
"This is followed by death by cardiac arrest. There are 700,000 each year in the United States, and who knows how many could be saved with proper advanced emergency care."
Victor and Lucy Solow had three children. One of them, a daughter, died of cancer last November at the age of 25. But, death did not keep his appointment in Samarra  with Victor Solow. 
[2. Somerset Maugham: The Appointment in Samarra .. articles/
[3. Mr. Solow passed away just 3 years later at the age of 59 from another heart attack. See: victor-solow-obituary-and-personal.htm ]
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