Watch CBS News

Woman declared dead knocks on coffin during her own wake in Ecuador: "It gave us all a fright"

A 76-year-old woman who was declared dead at a hospital in Ecuador astonished her relatives by knocking on her coffin during her wake, and the incident has prompted a government investigation into the hospital.

Relatives left the coffin behind and rushed retired nurse Bella Montoya back to the hospital after the wake Friday in the central city of Babahoyo, son Gilberto Barbera told The Associated Press.

Bella Montoya, who was declared dead at a hospital in Ecuador, astonished her relatives by knocking on her coffin during her wake. AP

"It gave us all a fright," Barbera said, adding that doctors have said his mother's situation remains dire.

Ecuador's Health Ministry said that Montoya was in intensive care Monday at the Martín Icaza Hospital in Babahoyo while the ministry investigates doctors involved in her case. A technical committee has been formed to review how the hospital issues death certificates, the ministry said in a statement.

Montoya initially had been admitted Friday at the hospital with a possible stroke and cardiopulmonary arrest, and when she did not respond to resuscitation a doctor on duty declared her dead, the ministry said.

Barbera said his mother was unconscious when she was brought to the emergency room and that a few hours later a doctor informed him she was dead and handed over identity documents and a death certificate.

The family then brought her to a funeral home and were holding a wake later Friday when they started to hear strange sounds.

"There were about 20 of us there," Barbera said. "After about five hours of the wake, the coffin started to make sounds. My mom was wrapped in sheets and hitting the coffin, and when we approached we could see that she was breathing heavily."

Though he and relatives rushed her back to the hospital Friday, she was still in serious condition Monday. She was under intubation, and doctors weren't giving relatives much hope about her prognosis, Barbera said.

No details have been released about the doctor who had prematurely declared the woman dead.


Ecuadoran media reported the unusual incident, with headlines celebrating the woman's "resurrection."

"My mom is on oxygen. Her heart is stable. The doctor pinched her hand and she reacted," Barbera said in an El Universo newspaper report.

"They tell me that this is good, because it means that she is reacting little by little."

Montoya was admitted to hospital with a suspected stroke "and went into cardiorespiratory arrest without responding to resuscitation maneuvers, so the doctor on duty confirmed her death," Ecuador's Health Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The ministry said it had established a committee to investigate the incident and that it would supervise Montoya's care.

Barbera said he had visited his mother in the hospital's intensive care unit on Sunday.

"Little by little I am grasping what has happened. Now I only pray for my mother's health to improve. I want her alive and by my side," he said.

A similar incident happened in the U.S. in December. An Iowa care facility mistakenly pronounced a 66-year-old resident dead and had her transported to a funeral home, where she woke up "gasping for air." 

In 2020, a young woman who was declared dead at her suburban Detroit home opened her eyes at a funeral home as she was about to embalmed.

AFP contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.