Even in the Bible Belt, coroners don't use the word "miracle" lightly.
But Holmes County, Mississippi, Coroner Dexter Howard has no qualms using the word for the resurrection, as it were, of Walter Williams, who was declared dead Wednesday night.
Howard received the call from Williams' hospice nurse, who told Howard that the 87-year-old had passed away. A family member called as well, saying the same, Howard said.
Howard and Byron Porter from Porter & Sons Funeral Home in Lexington, Mississippi, drove to Williams' home to collect the body for funeral preparations. Howard checked Williams' pulse about 9 p.m. and pronounced him dead.
"There was no pulse. He was lifeless," Howard said.
The coroner completed his paperwork, placed Williams in a body bag and transported him to the funeral home, he said. There, something strange happened: The body bag moved.
"We got him into the embalming room and we noticed his legs beginning to move, like kicking," Howard said. "He also began to do a little breathing."
They immediately called an ambulance. Paramedics arrived and hooked Williams up to monitors. Sure enough, he had a heartbeat, so they transported him to the Holmes County Hospital and Clinics.
"They were in shock. I was in shock. I think everybody at the hospital was in shock," Howard said.
Neither in his 12 years as county coroner nor during his decade as deputy coroner has Howard seen anything like it. Howard was absolutely certain Williams was dead.
The only reasonable explanation he could think of, Howard said, is that Williams' defibrillator, implanted beneath the skin on his chest, jump-started his heart after he was placed in the body bag.
"It could've kicked in, started his heart back," Howard said. "The bottom line is it's a miracle."
Overjoyed family members are thanking God for saving the life of the longtime farmer they call "Snowball."
"So it was not my daddy's time," daughter Martha Lewis told CNN affiliate WJTV. "I don't know how much longer he's going to grace us and bless us with his presence, but hallelujah, we thank Him right now!"
Nephew Eddie Hester told CNN affiliate WAPT he was at Williams' Lexington home when Howard and Porter zipped up the body bag, so he was more than a little stunned when his cousin called at 2:30 a.m. Thursday and told him, "Not yet."
"What you mean not yet?" Hester recalled asking his cousin. "He said, 'Daddy's still here.' "
"I don't know how long he's going to be here, but I know he's back right now. That's all that matters," Hester told WAPT.
Howard visited Williams on Thursday at the hospital and said he was still "a little weak" but was surrounded by family members and talking.
Mike Murphy, the coroner for Clark County, Nevada, and past president of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, said he couldn't comment on this specific case without knowing all the details, but he's read news reports of people returning to life at funeral homes "from time to time."
Asked if he'd ever heard of a case in which a defibrillator played a role in bringing someone back to life, Murphy said he hadn't, "but just because I haven't heard it doesn't mean it hasn't happened."
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