April 20, 2009 started out as just another morning for Suzanne Chin and her household – the usual scramble to get the children off to school before Ms Chin took off on her usual morning hike with her dog.
However, a few minutes after leaving home, she returned. According to Singapore’s Sunday Times, she was in no pain but felt something was amiss. It was after she showered that she felt something was wrong and alerted her husband.
“The last thing I remember was expressly forbidding him from calling an ambulance,” she said.
She was taken unconscious to hospital and sent to the ICU. She had no history of heart problems, but had suffered a cardiac arrest.
It was a huge shock for her husband John Alabaster. One day, everything had been normal for the couple, both in their 40s, and their children then aged 12, and seven. The next day, she was in a coma and it looked very bad.
The specialists told Mr Alabaster she had suffered brain stem death and he had to prepare himself for “letting her go”. “In their opinion – and they were very firm – there was absolutely no chance of any sort of recovery,” he recalled.
The next day, a doctor asked him if he had thought about it because his wife was neurologically lifeless, a valve in her heart had been severely damaged and there was no point keeping her alive.
Things looked “worse than bleak” but he refused to say yes to switching off his wife’s life support, even though the doctor had been well intentioned. “But his demeanour when I told him of my decision to reject his opinion was one of patronising incredulity coupled with an unsaid ‘oh, you’ll come around’,” he said.
On the third day, she revived.
Ms Chin opened her eyes to see her husband bending over her, then she realised they were not at home, and noticed the wires and tubes stuck all over her body.
“I realised that I was in a hospital and with tears in his eyes, my husband said that everything was going to be all right,” she said. “Within a very few hours, I was able to grasp a marker pen and I was able slowly to converse with the people around me.”
What remains vivid is what she described as a recurring vision during the lost days when she was in a coma.
She said: “I saw myself lying on a bed unable to move or speak. A man appeared by my side. He did not seem overtly threatening in any way but something in me sensed that he was not good.
“He told me that if I wanted to move or speak, all I would have to do was to follow him. I demanded that he leave me alone, but he would not go away. Over and over again I repeated this. I also prayed without ceasing.
“After a while, the man faded away. This vision repeated several times, but on what turned out to be the last occasion, the man started to get angry. He threatened to ‘take’ my daughter if I refused to ‘follow’ him. Again, I was resolute and unyielding, telling him he had no power over me as I was a child of God.
“It was at that moment that I woke from my coma to see my husband John standing by my bed.”
People she has related this to have asked if it might have been a dream. She said: “What is amazing is that this happened at a time when medically, I had been pronounced as being brain dead.”
Ms Chin’s recovery from first opening her eyes to sitting up with her feet over the side of the bed took just 36 hours.
“Not one doctor who treated me while in hospital or subsequently any specialist that I have seen since, either in Hong Kong or later in Singapore, has been able to account for the speed of my recovery or that I was able to come back from that hopeless position at all,” she said.
“There is no doubt that I had suffered massive brain damage resulting in brain stem death. If one looks at the situation rationally and logically, there is no explanation for what happened. I truly believe that this was a miracle from God and that I have been blessed with a second chance.”
Ms Chin and her husband said that while both are Christians, neither was committed or active in church at the time.
It was her brother, Dr Alan Chin, a Singapore doctor and a fervent Christian, who flew to Hong Kong, prayed with Mr Alabaster when she appeared the worst and believed that she would pull through.
Dr Chin told The Sunday Times he was shocked to find his sister diagnosed with brain stem death. “My medical training told me there was no hope, but my faith in God said that there was hope in Jesus Christ,” he said.
Mr Alabaster recalled mounting pressure from the medical staff treating his wife to “put Suzanne – and ourselves – out of our misery by switching off machines that were keeping her alive.” Even when she made an occasional twitch, they quashed his hopes by insisting that it was purely a reflex. Their talk always returned to “saying goodbye” and “letting go”.
“I, on the other hand, hopefully and prayerfully saw in these very slight movements a base from which to see further progress,” he said. They made him wonder if his brother-in-law could be right, that she would be healed.
What was also distressing was that as news of Ms Chin’s sudden illness spread, many of her friends from Hong Kong and elsewhere began arriving at her bedside, and Mr Alabaster knew that from talking to the medical staff, they too expected the worst.
What was hardest for him though, was talking to his daughter and son about their mother.
“I had told them that Mum was sick and in the infirmary – that was understandable to them as they had both been born at the same hospital,” he said.
He tried to put up a cheerful front and hoped to slowly break the news that they might lose their mother. But soon friends and family were arriving and he had to tell them she was seriously ill.
But he never told them about switching off the life support.
“It wasn’t that it was a choice I did not want to face, it was just not something I could or would ever sanction. The point was not that the person on that bed connected to all those austere machines was my wife.
“It was more fundamental than that… If that machine were to be turned off, all hope would vanish and I only had God and hope to rely on.”
Then, as suddenly as she had taken ill, Ms Chin made a recovery that astounded the doctors and nurses. “But their confusion and bafflement was juxtaposed with the amazement, relief and total ecstasy that my children and I were feeling as, by God’s grace, we had got our Suzanne back” said Mr Alabaster.
“Ten days after the attack she was as good as new. The tear in her heart valve that was so obvious on several ECGs and the ensuing poor heart performance was totally healed. This restoration, I am told, cannot happen without open heart surgery as heart valves do not repair by themselves.
“Suzanne’s brain activity was totally back to normal and from that day to this has never had even the slightest relapse.”
In the days that followed her recovery, Ms Chin learnt about all that had happened and how her doctors were convinced there was no hope and it would be best to let her die, but her brother was so sure she would live.
She said: “It pains me to think about what my husband, my children, my family and friends went through. It was a tremendously difficult time for all of them. Yet when faced with such a difficult decision, they chose to fight for me. Without their faith, I would not be here today, able to recount this story.”
Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon recalled Ms Chin’s remarkable story in a speech earlier this month on euthanasia and assisted dying. When The Sunday Times contacted Ms Chin for her story, she agreed only to answer questions via e-mail. The full story can be read here: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/lawyer-declared-brain-dead-wakes-up-after-calls-to-pull-plug-on-her
Meanwhile, Ms Chin’s brother, Dr Alan Chin, has shared her amazing testimony online, with details of her medical condition when she was in coma:
Dr Alan Chin
Testimony on Suzanne Chin
On the morning of Monday, 20 of April 2009, I received a call from my brother–in-law John that my sister Suzanne had suffered a cardiac arrest and was warded in ICU in hospital in Hong Kong. This came at the worst time possible as I was going through a time of tribulation and crisis in my own life. My wife Josie had just been appointed as the President of AWARE and when she most needed my support, I had to be away! (Remember the A.W.A.R.E. saga?)
My mother and I flew up that very afternoon to Hong Kong. We arrived that night and headed straight to Canossa Hospital where Suzanne was warded. We met John and my brother David who had flown in earlier. John recounted what had happened that morning.
As per her usual morning routine, after sending her kids to school, she went for her morning jog with her dog. However, after around ten minutes, she decided to turn back as she was feeling tired. She had a bath and went to bed. As John noticed that she looked unwell and was slow in her speech, he called for the ambulance. Within 10-15 minutes she was on her way to hospital, still conscious.
Unfortunately on arrival at 8:38am, she lapsed into unconsciousness with an unrecordable blood pressure. The doctors commenced resuscitation which lasted about 2 hours. ECG on admission showed narrow complex bradycardia. Intra venous adrenaline was administered and she developed a ventricular tachycardia. She was defibrillated which resulted in sinus rhythm. She was intubated and started on IV dopamine and adrenaline.
She was transferred to ICU after she had been stabilized.
MRI of Brain showed:
- Tiny T2W dark signal in Right cerebellar hemisphere, likely a nonspecific focus due to a tiny calcification or tiny focus of old No other intracranial abnormality.
- Trace fluid signal in posterior wall of NP.
- ECG immediate post resuscitation on 20.4.2009 – SR, ST depression in praecordial leads
- Interstitial lung markings, right lung pleural fluid, slightly more confluent shadowing RUZ, but may have some pneumonic changes.
In ICU, she developed diabetes insipidus – marked urine output (serum osmolarity 325 urine osmolarity 129) responded to DDAVP.
When I saw Suzanne in ICU, she did not look good. She was on a ventilator; her pupils were 4mm fixed and dilated. Her limbs were flaccid. The respiratory physician advised that the prognosis was very poor with evidence of brain stem death and pituitary gland failure. The room temperature in ICU was kept low to slow down the metabolic processes.
I spent the night in hospital praying and interceding. I proclaimed Psalm118:17 over Suzanne that she shall not die but live to declare the works of the Lord.
An echocardiogram done the next morning on Tue, 21 April 2009 by the cardiologist, Dr. David Ho showed:
- Moderate Aortic Regurgitation with global left ventricular dysfunction and moderate to severe global hypokinesia.
- Cardiac valves showed no abnormal thickening.
- Tri-leaflet aortic valve
- LVES 4.89cm LVED 5.35cm
- EF 19% by M mode
- LA 2.72cm
Dr Ho suggested a diagnosis of acute aortic valve prolapse leading to cardiac arrest.
That afternoon, her condition remained unchanged. The temperature in the ICU was now turned up in a not-too-subtle hint that the doctors had given up.
The respiratory physician again advised that there was no improvement and confirmed that Suzanne had brain stem death (BSD). It is a term equated with death to describe a person on life-support system when faced with a decision whether or not to switch off the ventilator or to harvest organs for organ transplant. She advised John to consider switching off the ventilator as Suzanne was now dead and there was no hope of recovery. She added in medical history there were no cases of anybody recovering from BSD.
I contacted my friends in Singapore to pray for Suzanne.
We requested for a second opinion from a neurologist who examined her that afternoon. Her pupils were fixed and dilated. Vestibulo-ocular reflex was negative. She had a negative gag and cough reflex. There was no pain reflex in response to deep pressure over sternum, fingers, and eyebrow. She was flaccid, a-reflexic and there was no plantar response. His diagnosis was also that of brain stem death.
That evening, Suzanne looked dead. She was cold and clammy; facial discoloration had set in, especially under her eyes. There was also a smell of death over her. That evening, her children, Kim and Ian saw her for the first time after her collapse. The whole family was distraught. Everyone was grieving for Suzanne.
Later that night, I called Josie to update her on Suzanne’s condition. She spoke to John and prayed with him. She received the word “resurrection” and told John that God is our Healer and that He would resurrect all her brain cells.
Even as I prayed that night, I asked Father God where was Suzanne ? He answered that she was with Him. I then asked whether she would be coming back. He said yes! I asked when but there was no answer. I then asked for a sign by Wednesday as I had scheduled to return to Singapore that afternoon. Comforted I went to sleep early that night.
Things started to turn around on Wednesday. Early that morning, the nurses noticed slight movement as they were sucking phlegm from her intubation tube. John excitedly called from hospital that early morning saying Suzanne had opened her eyes for the briefest moment several times!
We hurried down to the hospital. As we called her name there was response with twitching of her lips and movement of her eyebrows. She opened her eyes several times! We were all greatly encouraged.
Suzanne was then reassessed by the neurologist. When he called her name, there was no response. When he asked her to move her arm, again there was no response. However, when I called out her name, she opened her eyes. She also moved her fingers when I asked her to move her hand. Her pupils were still fixed and dilated with a negative doll’s eye reflex. There was grimacing of her face in response to deep pressure for pain over her fingers and sternum.
Strangely the neurologist still advised John that these signs were just autonomic responses. She also warned John not to raise false hopes of recovery as Suzanne had BSD!
At around noon, the respiratory physician noted there were further signs of recovery. Suzanne had started triggering the ventilator to breathe, about 5-10% of the breaths. By the time I left the hospital for the airport at about 1:30pm, she was initiating 100% of her breathing.
By that evening, there was movement of all her four limbs; with increasing episodes of eye movements. Her pupils were no longer fixed and dilated and she had regained her pupillary reflexes.
However she developed a fever. Her total white blood count was 34,500. Chest X-Ray showed lobar pneumonia, with bilateral infiltrates indicative of adult respiratory distress syndrome. Remarkably all these settled down within 24 hours.
On Thursday 23 April, while being reassessed by her neurologist, John asked Suzanne to nod her head if she understood him. She did so. He then asked her to nod her head twice as the doctor was skeptical. Again she did so.
By Friday 24 April, Suzanne was fully conscious and able to recognize all who visited her.
Echo of heart: Ejection Fraction had improved from 19% to 43%. (Her EF was back to normal by Monday 27 April).
Suzanne was ex-tubated on Saturday, 25 April. She was able to talk shortly after that. Neurological examination revealed full and total recovery with no neurological deficits.
I spoke to her that afternoon over the phone just before I testified in church of God’s power and amazing grace in bringing her back from the dead.
On Sunday 26 April morning, Suzanne was up and about and was able to shower herself. She even asked John to bring her facial wash and moisturizer.
She was discharged the following Tuesday.
As I shared her amazing testimony in Church Of Our Savior again, on Sunday 26 April morning, a reporter from ‘The Newpaper’ was also present. Intending to hear Pastor Derek’s sermon, she had no choice but to sit through my sharing of this miracle. It was then reported on Monday 27 April The Newpaper’s Front page!
Up till today doctors are not able to ascertain what happened to Suzanne as all the tests have been negative. She is fully recovered and coming back to Singapore permanently this end June 2009 after spending 15 years in Hong Kong.
Suzanne remembers that while she was in coma, she dreamt that she was pinned down on the floor of an apartment she had earlier visited in Pandan Valley Singapore. She tried to get up but someone (she described it as an evil presence) prevented her from doing so.
She has been touched and changed by her experience and walking closer to God.
I hope that Suzanne’s miraculous resurrection will be a source of comfort, strength and encouragement of the reality of God’s amazing grace, mercy and goodness.
Revelation 19:10b states: For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Let him or her who needs a miracle from God, claim one.
Dr Alan Chin