Dr. Mary Neal / Author, To Heaven and Back

Among the most remarkable segments of our series, “The Embrace of Dying,” involves fully-documented, near death experiences (NDE). Getting this ‘second chance at life’ can inspire people to do (or to continue to do) great things; it is often the motivation behind the ideal circumstances that we have come to know as ‘living life to the fullest.’  More often than not, having a second chance at life puts everything real into sharp perspective and makes life afterward so much richer.

Dr. Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon, was given that second chance.

Dr. Neal’s well-publicized story begins in Chile in 1999, when she drowned in a kayaking accident.  Her subsequent book, To Heaven and Back, details what happened to her before, during, and after her accident. She was gracious enough to agree to be a part of this discussion on what happens to us when we die.

The setting for this interview was very relaxed, much like Dr. Neal herself, taking place with the home she shares with her husband Bill in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Through the course of the two-hour interview, we explored places where she didn’t expect. When the subject of her son Willie came up, she became very emotional. In her book, she explains the story of Willie and death at the tragically young age of 19—ten years after her NDE. 

During her 1999 near-death experience, while on the other side, she was told that she had to go back because she had more work to do; also, that her son—then a young boy of nine—would die. Within a decade, the message that was given her came true. Willie, at 19, was killed by a driver who lost control of his vehicle on a country road in Maine.  Through these experiences, and through her unshakeable faith in God, she has persevered, and continues her work as an orthopedic surgeon in Jackson Hole.

As a memorial for her loving son, Mary began the Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Fund (WNEAF). The purpose of the fund is simple: “Promoting responsible choices through education, community involvement, and environmental initiatives.” She has truly embraced living and will continue to work to make the world a better place.  As she said, “It’s not the individuals that are one or two people removed from you that you impact, but it’s the people that are twenty-five or thirty removed that prove how our true impact may be felt.”

All of us who came to film Dr. Mary Neal—Co-Executive Producer Tom Rau, Associate Producer Chaz Millard, Field Producer Jay Rau and Executive Producer Keith Famie—all had plenty of amazing topics to discuss during our car ride home.

Visit www.drmaryneal.com to learn more about Mary and her book. To find out how you can support the WNEAF, visit www.wnealenvirofund.org.