Many have dreamed of what the afterlife looks like -- a tunnel of light, a set of pearly white gates -- but Dr. Mary Neal, an orthopedic spine surgeon, says she has seen it first-hand. Not only does she claim to have experienced what happens when we die, but she also asserts that while in heaven, she was forewarned of a tragedy that would occur in her life years later.
In 1999, Neal was kayaking in southern Chile with a group of friends when her kayak became pinned at the bottom of a waterfall. For 12 minutes she was trapped underwater. Another kayaker in the group, an EMT, described her as "blue, waxy, no heartbeat, no breathing, cold-to-the-touch dead."
Despite going without oxygen for a full 24 minutes, Neal was able to be resuscitated and -- remarkably -- suffered no brain damage.
When Neal regained consciousness, she said she had been to heaven.
Neal recently appeared on "In Deep Shift with Jonas Elrod," a new series on OWN that takes an in-depth look at real people who have experienced spiritual transformations. In the above video from the premiere episode, Elrod sits down with Neal and asks her to describe what heaven is like.
"It was this experience that was different than here," she says. "The senses were different. I mean the beauty was incredibly intense, there's no other earthly equivalent."
Neal says she did not see a tunnel of light, but rather, something much more expansive. "I was in a hurry to get to this big, domed structure of sorts," she says. "There were many spirits inside, and when I arrived, they were overjoyed and welcoming me and greeting me, and really joyful at my arrival."
"Did the people that met you -- were they angels?" Elrod asks. "Did they have bodies?"
"They had physical form. They had heads, arms, legs and were wearing sort of robes," Neal describes. "I knew they were there to love me and guide me and protect me."
Neal says the spiritual beings told her it wasn't her time and that she had to go back to her body. "I did what I think any reasonable person would do, and I said, 'No, I'm not going. You can't make me.' And they said, 'Well, you are going, and we will take you back, and here's some of the work you have to do.'"
"I was taken back down this path and was reunited with my body," she says. "They told me a little bit about this mandate to share my experienced with other people."
In addition to sharing her story in her memoir To Heaven and Back, Neal says the spiritual beings forewarned her of a tragic event. "They did tell me about the future death of my oldest son," she says. "They didn't tell me the date or the time, but it was very clear that would be happening."
Ten years went by, and Neal tried to remain hopeful. She decided to carry the burden alone, not even sharing with her husband what she had been told about their son, Willie. The day she finished her memoir, she says she learned Willie was in an accident. A driver, distracted by his cell phone, struck him with his vehicle and killed him.
"I woke up every day hoping the plan for my son's life would change," Neal says.
More: Dr. Mary Neal attempts to use her medical background to find a scientific explanation for her near-death experience. Here's what she concluded.