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Mother and Child on Beach


These are the faces and stories of people who were diagnosed brain dead and lived to tell the tale

Harrison Ellmer

Diagnosed "Brain Dead" in January 2013 at only three weeks old. He has made a near complete recovery with only mild complications.

CW: Article involves photos of infant Harrison in the ICU


Jahi Mcmath

2000 - 2018

Declared "Brain Dead" in the state of California in December 2013. She lived five more years in New Jersey post diagnosis, passing away in 2018 due to liver failure.

Lewis Roberts

Declared "Brain Stem Dead" in March 2021, he started breathing on his own hours before his organs were to be harvested for donation. Today he's playing football (soccer) and basketball.


Taylor Hale

Diagnosed "Brain Dead" in September 2011,  after being taken off life support, she started breathing on her own. She graduated high school in 2015 with the rest of her class, and has been living a normal life.

Zack Dunlap

Declared "Brain Dead" in November 2007, Zack heard the doctors pronounce his 'death'. Minutes before his organ harvest was about to begin, his cousin proved he had reflexes. After 48 days in the hospital, he was sent home and lives a fully recovered life.

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Pastor Ryan Marlow

Diagnosed "Brain Dead" in August 2022, Pastor Marlow's wife pushed for second opinions and additional testing. After being seen by a specialist the initial diagnosis was withdrawn.

George Pickering III

Declared brain dead in January 2015, George's father, while drunk, staged a siege in the hospital after believing the hospital "moved too fast". After a three hour siege with the police, George started responding by moving his hand.


Gloria Cruz

Diagnosed "Brain Dead" in March 2014, her husband was told she was a hopeless case, but he pushed for additional care anyway. A little over two weeks later she woke up. 

Raleane “Rae” Kupferschmidt

1942 - 2015

Declared "Brain Dead" in February 2008 at 65 years old, Raeleane's family had taken her home and were making funeral arrangements when she responded to questions after signs of life, and made a near complete recovery. She passed away peacefully in 2015 from old age. 

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Colleen S. Burns

1969 - 2011

Diagnosed "brain dead" after an attempted overdose in 2009, she was never given adequate testing at the hospital, and awoke on the operating table minutes before her organs were harvested. Sadly, she passed away in 2011 of depression. 

Steven Thorpe

Declared "Brain Dead" in February 2008 after only two days in the hospital, his parents refused to accept the diagnosis, and demanded a second opinion. After four doctors confirmed the diagnosis, the family still refused to give up, and two weeks later, Steven woke up. 


Trenton McKinley

Diagnosed "Brain Dead" in March 2018, his parents had signed papers for his organ donation in order for the hospital to continue life support for viable organ harvest. The day before the harvest surgery he started showing signs of life and began a long recovery.

Kaleb Crook

Declared "Brain Dead" in December 2018, Kaleb Crook continued to breathe on his own and squeeze his mother's finger even after doctors had removed life support

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Jennifer Hamann

In 1985, doctors called her "Brain Dead", but her husband refused to make her an organ donor. She made a complete recovery and became a nurse as a result.

James Howard-Jones

Diagnosed brain dead after being attacked on a night out in April 2022, his family asked doctors to delay the organ donation for a week so James’ friends and family could say goodbye. Waiting the few extra days lead to James waking up, despite his diagnosis. 

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