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When Barry Gibbons woke up from a three-week coma at Toronto General Hospital he shocked everyone when he said, “I already know about my leg.”
His wife Cathy was stunned.
While Barry was in a coma, doctors had discovered a complication in Barry’s leg that required immediate surgery.
Although he lay motionless and seemingly disconnected from the world around him, Barry still had a sense of what was going on.
An out-of-body experience
“The whole time I was unconscious I was having a weird, out-of-body experience,” said Barry. “At one point I saw myself lying on the operating table while the surgeons cut into my leg. It felt so real that I knew it must have been happening.”
He was right.
This was just one of many visions he had during the three weeks he was on life support. He clearly recalled the images of angels, bright forests and blue water, and the sound of his loved ones praying for him.
“At first I brushed it off, assuming it was the drugs talking,” said Cathy. “But after he explained some of the details of his surgery, I knew there was no way he could be making this up.”
Philip Murray, a spiritual care professional dedicated to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) at University Health Network (UHN), met with the Barry nearly every day in the weeks following his awakening to reflect on the experience.
“Barry was struggling to understand what his visions meant,” said Murray. “I sat with him on a number of occasions to help him cope with his difficult experience and express his feelings in a way that honoured and valued his religious beliefs.”
With Murray’s guidance, Barry was able to reconnect with his spirituality and focus on the important things in his life like family, faith and happiness.
“Finding spirituality transformed my life and Philip made that possible,” said Barry. “We weren’t spiritual people before, but being close to death and having an out-of-body experience brought meaning to what was once a mundane life.”
Finding meaning in difficult times
“I’ve seen many patients like Barry who find spirituality in a moment of great fear and doubt,” said Murray. “It’s my role to listen without judgment, provide understanding, and offer support along the way.”
UHN’s spiritual care program can help patients and family members find meaning, value and connection in difficult times. Spiritual care professionals are available for one-on-one visits and provide opportunities for prayer, meditation and reflection.
“A common misconception with spiritual care is that you have to be religious to benefit from our program,” said Murray. “This could not be further from the truth. We are here to give a shoulder to lean on and ears to listen, no matter what your background or beliefs.”
The Gibbons said the spiritual care from UHN was a vital component to Barry’s return to health, along with the exceptional medical team led by Dr. Anthony Ralph-Edwards.
Staff at UHN became a “second family” to the Gibbons, who were a long way from their hometown in Newfoundland.
To learn more about UHN’s Spiritual Care program, visit our website: