Dr. Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon, has been sharing her near-death experience with the world since it happened nearly twenty years ago.
Not only does she say she has been to heaven, but she also says she was forewarned of her son's tragic death years before it actually happened.
In an interview on CBN News' Prayer Link, she explained, "When Jesus sort of released my spirit in Heaven, I was welcomed and greeted by these people who took me down this beautiful pathway to this big dome structure and we were on the threshold of this place for what felt like many hours and it was they that told me about this and it wasn't that it was an impression," she said.
She added, "It was very clear that this was going to happen. And I was given expectations in terms of my response and when I asked the question, the obvious question, well why? Why my boy? I was immediately taken back to what Christ had told me and shown me about the beauty coming of everything."
Neal's son died in a skating accident in 2009.
Neal's experience with the afterlife took place in 1999 when she and her husband were vacationing in South America.
"My husband and I really enjoy kayaking. We enjoy traveling. We speak Spanish. We've traveled internationally a number of times. So for my husband's birthday I said, 'OK, this is the year we are going to do it.' So we went to Chile for a vacation to kayak."
After a week of kayaking, Bill sat out the final day with a sore back. Mary and the rest of their group kayaked through a treacherous stretch of the river.
She told CBN News, "Basically I inadvertently, I went over a fairly sizeable waterfall and I was pinned or stuck underneath eight to ten feet of water at the bottom of the waterfall and I was underwater for about 30 minutes."
The only thing she could do was pray.
"I very sincerely asked that God's will be done, and I meant it. I didn't say 'Oh please come and save me.' I really meant it. I asked for God's will to be done and at the moment I asked that I was overcome by a very physical sensation of being held and comforted and reassured that everything was fine; that my husband would be fine, my four young children would be fine regardless of whether I lived or died. And I believe that Christ was holding me while I was still on the boat and was the One reassuring me."
WATCH MARY'S AMAZING STORY RIGHT HERE:
After several minutes of searching, the group leaders realized Mary was trapped under the falls. They came out on the rocks and they kept trying to get to the boat but the force and the volume of the water was such that they kept being flushed through.
"They just couldn't get to me. At one point they sort of recognized that it was really turning into body recovery, not so much of a rescue."
"My body was being slowly sucked over the front deck. So what that meant was when it got to my knees, my knees bent back on themselves and I could feel that. I'm an orthopedic surgeon. I analytically was thinking, 'Well, feels like my tibia probably broke.'"
"But I wasn't screaming. I didn't have pain. I didn't have fear. I didn't have that sense of air hunger. I know I've been underwater too long to be alive, yet I feel more alive than I've ever felt. This is more real than anything I've ever experienced. As my body broke free from my boat, I felt my spirit break free from my body and I rose up and out of the river."
Mary looked down on the river as she left her body. Then, she was met by a group of heavenly beings.
"They were absolutely overjoyed to see me and greet me, and I them. I knew that they had known me and loved me as long as I existed and I knew that I had known them and loved them. I knew that they had been sent by God."
"They began taking me down this exceptionally beautiful path that was brilliant and they were taking me toward this great domed structure of sorts that was not only was exploding with beauty and color, but it was exploding with this absolute love of God."
"(It) was beyond anything that I could ever describe or ever truly explain and I could hardly wait. I was absolutely overwhelmed with this sensation of being home, of being where I belonged. But just as quickly, there was this sense of disappointment that descended on everyone. The spirits who had taken me there told me that it wasn't my time and I had more work to do on earth and I had to go back to my body."
After what seemed like hours with her heavenly hosts, Dr. Neal returned to the river and watched as her friends recovered her body.
"I could see my body being pulled to the shore and I could see the guys start CPR. I felt like he was looking right at me and begging me to come back and take a breath. I lay down and I was reunited, in the middle of a very remote part of South America."
Dr. Neal had been gone for over 15 minutes, perhaps as long as 25 minutes – certainly longer than medical science can explain her survival.
She was flown back to the United States where she slowly recovered from her injuries. In her books, "To Heaven and Back" and "7 Lessons From Heaven," she talks about how the reality of God's love has changed her for eternity.
"The most important thing is, first of all, how much God loves us and the change that can occur to accept that," said Neal.
***This story was published in 2017
Who is Jesus? Is he really God’s Son? And what does Jesus have to do with Heaven? Your questions are answered here.