Touching Heaven

A Cardiologist's Encounters with Death and Living Proof of an Afterlife


By Dr. Chauncey Crandall

With Kris Bearss

Read by Dr. Chauncey Crandall

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How a doctor’s glimpses of eternity confirmed everything he believed about God, suffering, life on earth, and what happens after death.
Dr. Chauncey Crandall knows his patients well. When they are dying, he sits at the bedside with them and holds their hands. He prays with them. Sometimes he can feel what they feel and see what they see. At other times his patients have near-death experiences and “come back” with astonishing descriptions of the afterlife. In TOUCHING HEAVEN, Dr. Crandall reveals how what he has seen and heard has convinced him that God is real, that we are created for a divine purpose, that death is not the end, that we will see our departed loved ones again, and that we are closer to the next world than we think.


“We know the truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.”

Blaise Pascal


Encountering Heaven

MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with the reality of heaven wasn’t anything like what you’ve read in the books about near-death experiences. In fact, I was very much alive and well—an energetic nineteen-year-old working as an orderly at a noted community hospital in northern Virginia prior to medical school.

Because this facility was just across the state line from Washington, DC, its patients routinely included politicians, academics, government officials, and military personnel. I was happy to carry out my daily tasks of drawing blood, pushing wheelchairs, and cleaning rooms, but I also got to do rounds with the doctors and nurses there, which is where I first became acquainted with Karl. He was in his late sixties and had been in the Allied forces during World War II. In our hospital—where he’d been a patient for nearly a month—he was still fighting a war, but against a different enemy: bladder cancer.

When I met him, he was full of life. And judging by his kindness and his many interesting stories, I knew he was a good man who had lived well; I couldn’t help but be drawn to him. What I didn’t know was that Karl was dying.

I frequently stopped by his room so I could hear his wartime tales and take in his wisdom. Meanwhile, I was trying to decide which field of medicine to go into. Desiring to gain exposure to other areas, I one day told the head of the pathology lab, “I want to observe you the next time you’re working up a case.”

The call came one beautiful Saturday morning. I left Fairfax’s sunshine and clear skies behind and headed for the lab, which was housed in the basement of the hospital. After scrubbing in and donning the medical exam apparel, I pushed open the metal doors, and there on a metal table in that cold, gray room was a corpse—its chest open and arms stretched out as if on a crucifix. My senses were charged and raw. This was a side of medicine, a side of human experience, I’d been shielded from till now.

As I approached the exam table, I saw the lifeless face belonging to that human shell…and instantly nausea grabbed me.

“What’s wrong?” asked the pathologist.

“I know this man,” I said, trembling. “I have to go.”

I hurried out of the room, the unmistakable smell of death following my every step, my thoughts running wild.

I flashed back to my conversations with Karl. He had been alive the last time I’d seen him just a few days ago—heart pumping, veins plumped with life-giving blood, sitting up, breathing, talking. In our times together he’d recounted stories of battlefield courage and foxhole fears. He’d been a gentle warrior and a family man. A good man. And now, the way I saw it, he was not only dead but empty of everything that had been him.

The naïve kid who had walked into that postmortem examining room was suddenly eye-to-eye with a question that demanded an answer. The words collided in my mind and tumbled out of my mouth in a desperate, angry cry. “Is this all there is?”

I stood in that basement hallway, my heart throbbing, my emotions on overload, my stomach nauseated. The seeming futility and finality of everything we do in this life covered me like a fog. In that Saturday-morning moment, all I could think of was my gentle friend—once an awarded soldier with a loving family, now reduced to a lifeless cavity on a metal gurney in a room the sun never sees. Death seemed so decisive, so horrific and wicked—and it terrified me.

I decided I never wanted to attend an autopsy again.

I also decided I hated death and would devote myself to fighting it with everything I could muster. Perhaps that’s why I became a cardiologist: a healthy heart is the opposite of death; a healthy heart means there’s hope. As long as you have a pulse, you aren’t in cold storage awaiting autopsy. As long as there’s no flatline on your electrocardiogram, you haven’t arrived at your final resting place.

My medical resolve to prevent death and promote health, however, couldn’t deliver me from the reality that I was presented with in that defining moment in the pathology lab. This was not a physical question but a metaphysical one—a spiritual concern that had everything to do with the condition of my heart of hearts: I had to decide whether or not there was more to life than this life. Whether there is a heavenly realm and existence beyond this one, and what that might mean for my time on earth if it’s true.

It’s a decision we all make.

I found evidences of the answer while treating patients at home in the United States, and while ministering in the spiritual battlefields of Third World countries abroad. While sitting by the bedsides of the dying, and while standing over those who were once as good as dead—and yet still live. I even saw proofs of this life when I lost my own son.

The answer changed how I practice medicine, and it would change me.

These are the stories that helped me realize the heart—and the reality—of heaven.


Evidence Required

WITHIN A YEAR of that autopsy awakening, I became a Christian. And shortly after that, I started medical school. However, my newfound faith didn’t eliminate my need for hard evidence about the afterlife and whether this life is all there is.

As a medical doctor-in-training, I was taught to interpret reality in strictly physical terms. Yet by the time one of my twin sons became terminally ill, I’d seen enough to be convinced of a greater reality than the one we see with our eyes alone. My experiences in medicine—a professional career that now spans four decades—have only served to verify this conclusion.

Till now, I have kept these evidences mostly to myself; after all, I’m a doctor, not a chaplain. But I’ve had so many views of what lies past the veil of ordinary life that I am compelled to share them.

I know others have done this already in some fashion, reporting their personalized accounts of what happens after we die. What’s different about me is that I see evidences of the next realm all the time, in my work and ministry; every day, this life gives us glimpses of the next. These snapshots—from my patients’ bedsides and my personal experiences—are what I want to share with you.

I have seen the dead come to life. Literally.

I have heard the tales that dead men and women tell once they’ve returned from the brink.

I have witnessed astonishing healings and impossible recoveries.

I have been in that sacred moment, even with my own son, when a life passes from this world into the next. (One nurse said it well: “Sometimes you can feel a person’s spirit leave the room.”)

I have witnessed the peaceful passing of those who were confident of heaven, as well as the sometimes-fearful transition of those who scoffed at it.

As for me, I don’t question its existence anymore. After everything I’ve seen, heaven is more tangible to me than ever. This is significant, because when your senses have been bombarded with the details of human suffering like mine have—when you’ve perpetually witnessed the assault of disease on the human body—it produces legitimate doubts. Karl’s autopsy certainly blindsided me with desperate questions. But what I didn’t understand back then is what happens when, alongside that daily dose of suffering, you are given a regular, firsthand view of heaven…and of a God who loves and longs to heal us.

That injection of eternity into the here-and-now can produce life-altering hope despite sometimes-agonizing circumstances. It’s what the Bible calls “the peace…which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). This is another evidence of heaven that I can’t ignore.

There are others, such as the medical results and personal transformations I’ve witnessed that can only be attributed to the miraculous. Through it all, a steady trust has been instilled in me, and more than ever, I picture this world as a sort of pre-op room where we are prepared for the real healing to come. Scripture promises that Jesus has readied a place for those who call on His name. When the veil of this life is pulled back long enough for us to see what awaits, these revelations can open our eyes and transform our choices, making life new. They certainly did that for me.

As I’ve gotten beyond the walls of the hospital and traveled the globe, I’ve witnessed the physical realm intersecting with the spiritual realm in even more dramatic ways. The two worlds overlap all the time, but when we’re in familiar surroundings, we often don’t see it. Both realms are real, just as surely as God is real. And because of these realities, I now know that life doesn’t end here.

This is a journey that I first had to make intellectually as a scientist, but then very intimately as a man and a father. It is a journey you will have to make as well. My desire is that this book will help you draw the right conclusion—because it really is a matter of life and death.

I’ll be the first to admit: there are many things on the other side of the veil that will remain a mystery until we step through it. God’s ways and thoughts are so far beyond ours that I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Still, the clues do keep adding up, not just in my experiences but in His Word—all working together to reject the lies of evil, refute our misconceptions about God and heaven, and reinforce the promises of eternal life for those who choose it.

The surer we are of God and the realities beyond this realm, the better we can join in the battle, seeking to relieve the suffering of the sick as well as the suffering of sin-sick souls. Because of the hope of eternity, every son or daughter of God can speak light into the darkness and life into death—it’s not just for me to do as a physician. And because heaven exists and God is real, we have full authority to proclaim Jesus as Lord and King. Not just someday, upon our arrival in heaven, but presently, in this life too.

When Jesus prayed, “Father in heaven…Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9–10 NKJV), He wasn’t giving us a sweet sentiment with which to soothe ourselves; I believe it was a battle cry to all who would call Him Lord and Savior. We are to go to war on this earth with this truth on our lips: we can have hope because heaven is.

Now let me show you what convinced me…

Part I

Proofs of Life

Chapter 1

More Than Meets the Eye

“WHY DID YOU bring me back?” Gary’s dark eyes were wide and desperate, his unshaven face an angry red.

You would think I’d have some advantage over a recovering surgical patient in a hospital gown, but I couldn’t move—this burly ex–Vietnam veteran had hoisted me by the collar onto my tiptoes there in the hospital hallway, rushing out of his room like a giant out of the forest when he saw me walk by.

Moments like these made me wonder what had ever motivated me to become a doctor. Yet I grew up convinced that medicine was my future. Not only because I was naturally curious and had a heart to help people, but because I was always inclined toward science and its rationalism. Right now, though, no amount of reasoning could save me if this gang leader and his six feet, five inches’ worth of full-body tattoos wanted to shove me through the wall.

“Why did you bring me back?” he yelled.

I was so dazed, I could only mutter, “What do you mean?”

He glared at me for a few seconds and then said emphatically, “I was fine where I was! I was okay!”

As he relaxed his grip and set me down, I asked again, “What do you mean?”

All I knew was that just days before, Gary, who was only in his mid-forties and a likely victim of Agent Orange, had been wheeled into the operating theater at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, to have an arterial PTCA balloon inserted in his diseased heart. First we had installed a heart catheter. Then, as the senior surgeon was carefully putting in the balloon to open Gary’s blockage, our patient suddenly went into full cardiac arrest right there on the table. We prepared to shock him once with the defibrillator paddles, but the machine was dead. We quickly recharged it and tried again…and nothing. After a third attempt, we were sure the defibrillator wasn’t working, so we started an air bag and full CPR to keep him alive until we could find another solution.

In those frantic minutes, the number of medical personnel doubled in that small room as additional staff hurried in to help. A patient emergency always demands a controlled sort of chaos among the medical team, but on this day, the scene was more chaotic than usual: while a group of doctors and nurses tended to the patient, some of the staff desperately tried different electrical outlets around the room to see if they could get the defibrillator to work. When they couldn’t, they rushed to the radiology department to get a replacement machine. Meanwhile, the EKG leads came off Gary’s body, and at one point, somebody tripped over his IV line, and I had to crawl under the operating table to reconnect it. Quickly, a new defibrillator was brought in, and when we placed the paddles on his chest and shocked him, Gary’s normal sinus rhythm was restored.

Usually, living to see another day would be a cause for celebration, not confrontation. But when Gary told me what he’d experienced during that time in the surgical theater, I began to understand his aggressive reaction. He stated, “I was out of my body and looking down. I saw you underneath the table…” And he added that despite the chaos in that room, he had been perfectly at peace. A peace he didn’t want to leave. He seemed almost anguished to have been brought back into this world out of the sublime serenity of those few critical minutes when his life was in the balance.

I might have dismissed his experience as “he’s seen one too many near-death reports on TV,” except that, without any comment from me, Gary went on to describe in detail what we had done to save him, right down to the emergency exchange of equipment—an exchange that had never before occurred in any medical trauma I had been involved with. And for him to have known I crawled under the table…He couldn’t possibly recount all these things with such accuracy unless he actually saw them somehow.

I was stunned.

This happened in the final year of my cardiology fellowship, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Was this a God-moment to reveal to the doctor that there could actually be peace on the other side after all the hardness and difficulty life had directed at this man? Was I glimpsing the calm of heaven amid the complexities of life? In spite of my knowledge and training, I had no answers. Only questions.

Science or Faith?

My career journey has included three years of research in cardiovascular surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, and cardiology fellowships at New York City’s Beth Israel and Mt. Sinai Hospitals as well as the Medical College of Virginia. Now I am on staff at three hospitals in West Palm Beach, Florida. But it took a while for me to get as serious about my education as I was about other pursuits.

Once I got more intent on my education, I signed on for pre-med and anthropology studies at Virginia Commonwealth University—all while working odd jobs and dating my high-school sweetheart, Deborah. I enjoyed my classes and managed a respectable B+ average. In preparation for medical school, I took additional courses at both Georgetown and George Washington Universities. I then signed on as an anatomy lab assistant at GW in the hope that having a job within the medical field would give me an inside track to achieving my dream.

I could hardly have chosen more distasteful work—and my intermittent bouts of nausea confirmed it. For that entire year, I was surrounded by death. Literally. And the smell of formaldehyde was always with me, even at meals away from the hospital. I couldn’t eat certain foods because they reminded me of the lab.

My job was to work alongside the professors and prepare anatomical specimens for the med students to dissect, and then to clean up after their work was finished. This meant not only handling human cadavers and the anatomical donations that GW received from morgues and medical facilities but thoroughly washing and disinfecting the room and the medical instruments. I was also tasked with constructing the specimens for the medical school’s anatomical museum. I’d section and expose different body parts for teaching and install these in Plexiglas cases where the students could view a completed dissection alongside their textbooks.

One day my boss, a world-renowned anatomist, called down and asked me to process a delivery from another hospital in DC. When I arrived in the lab, a half dozen white five-gallon buckets were waiting for me to empty and stage their contents for an upcoming class. Given that we were a gross anatomy lab—studying the human body at a macroscopic level—I expected external body parts of some kind in these containers.

I was completely unprepared for what I saw.

Upon removing the first lid, my eyes registered a jumble of undersized arms and legs. As I removed more lids, my blood pressure rose. These were not amputated limbs!

There were probably a hundred discarded fetuses in all, many of them full-term and perfectly formed, looking as if they were sleeping. I knew this meant they were not the result of miscarriages. I had to hold my breath as I completed the horrifying task of lining them up on a long, stainless steel tray and arranging them according to size and gestational age. When I asked my boss if there was some mistake, he assured me that this was a typical delivery from the local women’s hospital, and these “specimens” were needed for the next embryology class. I just kept thinking, These are bucketfuls of babies!…They shouldn’t be here! I ought to be snuggling them in my arms, not pulling them from a pile!

Such images were hard to escape, and even harder for me to reconcile. Most of the time, the currents of science comfortably and naturally tugged me along, and I felt completely in my element. But then I would have these appalling encounters with things I couldn’t explain or resolve—things that would so drown my senses, I couldn’t catch my breath to save myself. Such exposures to the darker side of medicine—and the results of human choice—always felt like riptides propelling me into deep and frightening waters. Try as I might, I couldn’t just intellectualize dead babies being tossed away like trash…or the sight of my friend Karl being left empty on an autopsy table.

As I learned more about the complexities of the human body, neither could I comfortably accept the popular rationale that something so precise and intricate could just happen in an explosion of primordial molecules. To me, the magnificent sameness from one person to the next—the delicate balance of chemistry and biology and psychology and anatomy that sustains every human life—belies an undeniable order that eliminates coincidence and shouts of creative genius. Still, so early in my professional career, I tried my scientific best to neutralize the impact and implications of the unfathomable, because it seemed to me this was the way a doctor must think to succeed.

Back then, I believed I had to choose one path or the other—either science or faith; the two couldn’t possibly coexist. And since my training was in medicine, the choice seemed straightforward. Yet whenever I ventured exclusively down the path of science to supply my conclusions for all of life’s questions, I would run into another roadblock.


Or Karl.

Or discarded babies.

Roadblocks that I couldn’t deconstruct or detour around with just my intellect.

And the more I practiced medicine, the more I witnessed outcomes that had no clinical explanation—like medically impossible healings or the corroborated details of patients like Gary describing their out-of-body experiences. I’ve learned since then that doctors often tuck away such events in their mental physician’s bag and see if they ever happen again. Maybe a similar situation will present itself, we think—and with that new presentation, we hope more medical answers will come.

The thing that still haunted me, though, was the starkness of death. How could there be a lifetime of order and then, suddenly, a fatal moment of disorder—with none of a person’s physical functions working any longer? How could you be alive one minute…and the next you’re not? It seemed to me that order was the true nature of things, and there had to be a return to it somehow after we pass, or else the careful balance of systems within our physical world is pointless. And if such meticulousness underlies our days on this earth, then there has to be a purpose not only in this life but after this life too. At least, that’s what I was concluding as my medical horizons broadened.

A Realm Beyond Our Senses

I was still raw, but my wife, Deborah, whom I’d married in 1978, could tell my eyes were opening to a larger understanding. She had become convinced through her study of the Bible and her experiences with prayer, but I was a scientist first. I had to be shown evidence of heaven—and lots of it—before I could buy in beyond the basic faith of my childhood.

Ironically, it was science itself that persuaded me. Or rather, the limits of science.

Science could only account for so much of what I was witnessing firsthand; all the rest of my patients’ experiences spoke to an even greater reality: a realm beyond our physical senses.

I noticed that the dying constantly spoke of it. There was the Jewish man in intensive care who, just before he passed, kept repeating, “The temple is almost ready. The temple is almost ready.” So do those who have nearly died. One lady I know reported streets of gold so bright she couldn’t look at them, lined with flowers so vivid she couldn’t describe them. She could see stately homes in the distance, and one of her family members told her, “One of these is for you.” But as she began walking down the golden streets, she heard the Lord say, “It’s time for you to go back.”

Now she has no fear of dying.

When a person transforms from fear to peace after a moment like that, it is hard to reason it away.

There were additional signs of this other reality. When my own son was dying, there was a white mist in his room that disappeared once he’d taken his final breath, and Deb and I weren’t the only ones who saw it. (Since then, I and others have seen that same mist in the rooms of two other believers on their deathbeds.) I also observed that when people are dying, they either register frightful reactions, including shock, torment, or despair…or they reveal peaceful reactions such as calm and restfulness. There is almost never a middle ground—it is one extreme or the other, regardless of their symptoms or medication.

Additionally, in talking to missionaries and doctors serving in Third World countries, they would tell story after story of dramatic experiences with so many eyewitnesses that the outcomes were impossible to dispute. The consistency of their independent stories, coupled with my patients’ firsthand accounts and my own experiences, confirmed to me as a scientist that there is a greater and more enduring realm after our natural one—a supernatural realm, where forces of both darkness and light are at work.

I will talk more about those specific forces in a future chapter, but what I initially came to understand was that when this supernatural, spiritual kingdom drops into our earthly one, the atmosphere in a room changes and our physical world—sometimes our physical self—is altered. If the kingdom of darkness is present, there is chaos, agony, confusion, disruption. If the kingdom of light is present, there is peace and certainty no matter how dire the circumstances.

When Jesus was on this earth, He spoke often of this supernatural realm, and He went to great lengths to inform us of the nature of the kingdom of light in particular. When He spoke of it in parables, it was in terms such as these:

“The kingdom of heaven is like…

  • seed…planted in [a man’s] field” (Matt. 13:24, 31).
  • yeast that a woman…mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matt. 13:33).
  • treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44).
  • a merchant looking for fine pearls” (Matt. 13:45).


On Sale
Sep 15, 2015
Hachette Audio

Dr. Chauncey Crandall

About the Author

Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall IV is chief of the Cardiovascular Transplant Program at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens and on staff at three medical centers. He has lectured nationally on topics including heart transplantation, preventive cardiology, healing, and cardiology health care of the elderly. Dr. Crandall writes a monthly newsletter which is published by Newsmax and is the author of two books, Raising the Dead and The Simple Heart Cure. He speaks regularly to professional groups and with the speaking team of international evangelist Reinhard Bonnke.
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