JOHANNESBURG, July 25, 2011 -- Workers at a South African mortuary got the shock of their lives Sunday when a man presumed dead by his family woke up screaming nearly a day later in a refrigerated morgue.
The man, who is in 60s but does not want to be publicly identified, lost consciousness after suffering an asthma attack over the weekend, according to Sizwe Kupelo, spokesman for the Eastern Cape Health Department. His family reportedly thought he had died and called a private mortuary company rather than paramedics collect the body.
The man then spent 21 hours in a refrigerated morgue, surrounded corpses. Upon awakening because of the freezing temperature he started to scream.
"Two workers heard screaming from the refrigerators," Kupelo told ABC News. "They thought it was a ghost and they ran for their lives."
The attendants returned with the entire mortuary team where as group they decided to open up the refrigerator. They discovered the confused, scared and cold man shivering in the morgue and immediately called an ambulance. After being placed under observation for six hours, doctors declared him stable and sent him home.
Kupelo says he will return for a check-up later this week.
"The temperature in the refrigerator is designed to keep corpses from decomposing," he says. "So you can imagine it's definitely not appropriate for a live person."
As amusing as the story is, Kupelo says the underlying issue is very serious. The government has gone public with this case to warn people that only trained health officials should declare people dead.
"This is why we're saying as a health department that people should call health services to have their relatives declared and certified dead and not these private mortuaries," he said. "Those guys are aren't trained paramedics. They're about business."
Kupelo said the man's grandson posted a Facebook note on Kupelo's wall attempting to defend the family's actions. But Kupelo said it may take a while for his miraculous recovery to sink in with the local villagers.
"At the village I bet the rumor is going around that a ghost is amongst the villagers," says Kupelo. "There will probably be family members that will refuse to stay the night with him now."