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‘Flatliners’ still have heartbeats left. But death comes within 5 minutes.

During the death process, the heartbeat often stops and starts.

Death is not a linear process.

New research finds that it’s fairly common for the heart to restart — usually just for a beat or two — after a person initially flatlines. No one in the study, which took place in intensive care units (ICUs) in three countries, survived or even regained consciousness. The longest gap between someone’s heart stopping and restarting again was 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

That’s an important number, according to study leader Dr. Sonny Dhanani, chief of the pediatric intensive care unit at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Canada. Most organ transplant programs require doctors to wait 5 minutes before beginning to remove organs from a deceased donor, though protocols differ from country to country, province to province and state to state. There are cases where programs wait only 2 minutes, or stretch the waiting period up to 10 minutes.

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