Five weeks ago, a woman in Peru who had been in a catastrophic car accident was declared dead after hospital officials confirmed life signs to have stopped. Not weird enough for you? Well, according to local news outlets, it happened after her funeral had already started.
Rosa Isabel Céspedes Callaca, 36, was first declared dead on April 25, in the intensive care unit of the Lambayeque Regional Hospital, Peru. She had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury after a high-speed collision reportedly threw her from the car headfirst to the ground.
Immediately, her family started making preparations for her funeral on April 26 – by law, the deceased must be buried within three days of death in Peru – and the next day, she was taken to the cemetery in an open casket.
However, according to reports, it was then that her family noticed something wrong. “She opened her eyes and was sweating,” Juan Segundo Cajo, the administrator of the El Carmen cemetery in Ferreñafe, said, per Argentinian outlet Los Andes. “At that moment I came to my office and proceeded to call the police.”
Callaca was transferred – still in her coffin – to the local hospital. Doctors confirmed that she was showing vital signs, albeit extremely low ones. “We took her to the hospital and she arrived with a pulse of five,” said one unnamed relative.
Unsurprisingly, the family of the deceased are demanding an investigation into how this could have happened. Their own leading theory is that Callaca was in a deep coma.
“[The case] is in an investigation process. The director of the hospital has already spoken, she is sending a report today (April 28) on the events that have arisen,” said the regional manager of Health, Alipio Rivas Guevara Rivas Guevara. IFLScience has since reached out to the hospital for comment.
Disconcertingly, there are quite a few ways this could have happened. Eyelids are famous for springing open after death – that’s why morticians in the US often use special prickly contact lenses to keep them shut. Dead bodies also move a lot more than you’d expect, too, particularly after traumatic deaths.
It’s also not that unusual for hearts to stop beating for long periods of time during death, or in fact for many biological processes to continue. As we’re learning now more than ever before, “dead” is kind of a relative term – and it’s definitely not one we understand completely.
Nothing exemplifies that more than another possible explanation for Callaca’s apparent resurrection: so-called “beating heart corpses.” This can happen when the brain dies, but the organs keep on working – one study in 1998 found approximately 175 cases where bodies continued to function for more than a week after brain death.
Whatever the cause of the mix-up, the story, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending. Reports say Callaca was hooked up to a respirator at the local hospital and had her blood oxygen levels monitored, but within a few hours, she was declared dead for the second and (so far) final time.