Two years ago, Sam Schmid’s close encounter with death was called a “Christmas miracle.” As he lay in a coma after sustaining massive brain injuries in a car crash, doctors were discussing organ donation with his parents and ready to take him off life support.

Schmid astounded those at his hospital bedside who thought he was brain dead, raising two fingers to signal he still had life left in him. But at the time, no one knew if the Tucson, Ariz., college student would ever return to his studies — or even walk or talk again.

Today at 23, he is a force on the basketball court, enrolled in college classes and is hoping to be a veterinary technician. Schmid credits his surgeon and the Center for Transitional Neuro Rehabilitation at Barrow Neurological Institute, where he was recently discharged.

Sam Schmid emerges from a coma.

“I am surprised at the end result,” Schmid told ABC News. “I was willing to comply with all the help at Barrow and my recovery is based on the hard work I did.”

Neuropsychologist Kristi Husk led a team of speech, occupational and physical therapists who have worked a near 40-hour week with Schmid over the last two years. The holistic program offers outpatient therapy to brain-injured patients and is one of the few in the nation designed to help them ease back into school or the workplace.

When Schmid arrived he was on a walker with a gatekeeper; he had difficulties with basic speech and even swallowing food safely.

“I would describe it as a fragile state physically and emotionally,” Husk told ABC News. But the “boot camp”-like intensity of rehabilitation inspired Schmid, who was quickly placed in a vocational transition, volunteering at a gym for the disabled and working at the hospital mail room and library, relearning work habits and socialization skills.

“His recovery is really extraordinary,” she said. “We are very proud of him.”

“We see a lot of patients here and Sam was at the most severe end of the spectrum,” said Husk, who has been in the field for a decade. “He was found dead at the scene (of the accident) and was on life support. We have seen patients recover here and seen some small miracles, but Sam’s is by far the most phenomenal recovery in my experience.”

Schmid was a junior and business major at the University of Arizona when he was critically wounded in an Oct. 19, 2011 five-car accident in Tucson.

He was returning from coaching basketball at his former Catholic school when a van swerved into his lane. The Jeep in which he was riding went airborne, hit a light pole and landed on its side. Schmid’s left hand and both of his femurs broke and required surgery. But he had suffered massive head injuries that are nearly always fatal.

The 21-year-old’s brain injuries were so severe that the local hospital could not treat him. He was airlifted to Barrow at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix, where specialists performed surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm.

As hospital officials began palliative care and broached the subject of organ donation with his family, Schmid began to respond, holding up two fingers on command.

When ABC News interviewed Schmid in December of that year, he was in a wheelchair and his speech was slow. Doctors said he would recover, but no one expected it so quickly and so fully.

His mother, Susan Regan, who is vice president of the insurance company Lovitt-Touche, and a devout Roman Catholic, called his astounding recovery, “a modern-day … Christmas miracle.”

“I have friends who are atheists who have called me and said, ‘I am going back to church,’” said the now 61-year-old.

Schmid’s doctor, renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler, said that while others had “reasonable” reasons to think Schmid was brain dead, he had a “hunch” the young man would make it. Spetzler has performed more than 6,000 brain surgeries and trained the doctor who operated on Congresswoman Gaby Giffords after she was shot in 2011.

During surgery, Spetzler clipped the balloon-like aneurysm in the blood vessel — “as if I were patching a tire,” a procedure that eventually worked.

For days Schmid didn’t seem to be responding, but what puzzled his doctor was that he did not see fatal injuries on the MRI scan. So he decided to keep Schmid on life support longer.

“There was plenty wrong — he had a hemorrhage, an aneurysm and a stroke from the part of the aneurysm,” Spetzler said in 2011. “But he didn’t have a blood clot in the most vital part of his brain, which we know he can’t recover from. And he didn’t have a massive stroke that would predict no chance of a useful existence.”

So while the family was given a realistic picture of Schmid’s poor chances for survival, Spetzler ordered one more MRI to see if the critical areas of the brain had turned dark, indicating brain death.

“If not, we would hang on and keep him on support,” he said. “But I didn’t want to give the family false hope.”

Schmid’s mother said no one “specifically” asked if her son would be a donor, but kept praying that her son would come around.

The MRI came back with encouraging news during the day and by evening Schmid “inexplicably” followed the doctors’ commands, holding up two fingers.

His mother said today that the rigorous rehabilitation has been a “Godsend.”

“Sam is as he is today as a result of their driving him to succeed. He gets better every day,” she said. “I do think of it as a miracle. He was so close to death and came back. I do believe God has a huge part in this.”

But the psychological challenges in his recovery were as great as the physical ones, said neuropsychologist Husk, who worked with Schmid on his coping skills.

“Those who are young have more endurance for the aggressive therapy than the older patients,” she said. “But, on the other hand, he is just starting to enter adulthood and had difficulty with the acceptance part. He wasn’t going to go right back to college, or graduate with his class or be with his friends. That was the tough part.”

“You are talking about years of recovery and for someone in their 20s that’s an eternity,” said Husk. “But I have to give kudos to him for sticking with it and being so determined. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s not to put a cap on these patients’ recovery, because they will surprise you.”


  1. Beautifully amazing story !! I said it before, and I’ll say it again, only the Almighty God alone inna de miracle – working business. God is indeed a good God !!

    1. Amazing wonderful ever present ever knowing God who sees n delivers us always this story made the hair on my neck standup what a mighty God we serve.

  2. It’s a miracle because it defies the odds, because there is still so much about both the human body and mind that we are still not knowledgeable about. However, I don’t think we selectively attribute every inexplicable occurrences to God for then we must also attribute the other horrors to his lack of involvement.
    Do we believe that God selectively decides who to save? Who should live while there are thousands of innocent babies, infants, children dying of cancer, car accidents and 23000 children dying of hunger everyday?
    Is this man’s life of more worth in the eyes of God than a kid who is being sodomized by the priests? Or the 750,000 children that go missing every year in the US alone?

    When we pray and our desires are granted we attribute it to God answering our prayers. When our desires are not granted, we attribute it to God having something Better for us in store. That’s the beauty and working of the mind, it was built for self preservation.

    I don’t think any of us has the answers to this enigma called life, and I cannot wrap my mind around a God who selectively helps people.
    Do I believe in a Creative Force? Absolutely but I’m also a thinker. Perhaps I overthink these things but it’s my nature.

    1. When we try to play God by determining who he is and what we should do we will find ourselves in a circle. There is no human that can play God by deciding what he does to who or to even ask why he does what he does. There is no way human that has lived for eons that can tell what will happen in every century nor can any one can anyone see the future in its entirety so when we question things that are of God we will never find the answer..God has a space…He is that is all

      1. I beg to differ. Fifty years ago people would die of brain tumors and other illnesses. In the 19th century, the average lifespan was 29 years. It’s because of thinking men and women who have in some ways played God by daring to think they can expand our lifespan by saving lives with brain surgeries, penicillin and a host of other medical advances that we can enjoy the quality of life we do today.
        Had they sat back and attributed everything to God, then we would have never made any scientific and medical breakthroughs. There would be no brain surgeries, heart replacements and prosthesis allowing people this life we enjoy today, despite all its ills.

        1. Dem nuh mek di biggest medical breakthrough yet. Which is to live forever and to create a human being… so science is still nothing…even with the science now people are still dying because if u are to die there is absolutely nothing that can stop that..not science only God

          1. The universe itself is ever expanding. Science is still evolving. We have created robots that in many ways put humans to shame. We have cloned all kinds of animals, created life in test tubes, created GMO babies with specific traits and predisposed characteristics, artificially inseminated women to carry and deliver up to eight live births, expand human life by the implantation of new hearts and organs, have grown human hearts inside of pigs and I shudder to think where we will be in 100 years.
            We even manipulate nature by creating hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, lightning and tsunamis.

            There was a time we felt such cataclysmic natural phenomenon were reprisals from God, now we know otherwise.

            Even attributing the saving of this life to God, we can just as easily attribute the earthquake that took over 500,000 lives in Haiti to God.

        2. Also science is only God’s leg room..All of these illnesses that you have mentioned had their own cures in nature …smallpox for example , that cure was found in dairy maids because they realized that these maids did not get the smallpox ..all of these illnesses had cures which showed up in people that led scientists to do investigative research … There were people who defied the odds and that was the work of God

          1. Foxy we ourselves cant see our own lives..we nuh foresee our mistakes and achievements…we nuh know whey deh roun di corner …I even remember planning out a piece a fairytale when mi did likkle and my life is nothing in comparison.. so how we can ever ask about what nuh in relation to us? We should pursue our own destiny because at the end of the day that is what life will be…destiny..mi nuh understand the questions at all

    2. Yuh si like how we tell ourselves our eye a fi see and the ears a fi hear…we haffi say God is and leave it at that because we know nothing. It is only when we start to determine what we think God should do or how he should be then we end up in a place where we think we have the answers and dont…because nothing will ever make sense..

      1. exactly met i totally agree we are to just accept it that god is god and thats that! it all boils down to one question really. Who created these “scientist”? i who lives and breath through them? nuh the same GOD? so how can oonu put science before god, the creator himself. i just dont get it

        1. There are many things that scientist cannot explain or fix..take mental illness …dem say a chemical imbalance but what they use to balance the chemicals stop working after a while and why? God is God that is all

  3. Conversely, am I wrong in that that because we do not know and have no answers, we them attribute it to God? Is it God because we lack any other explanation?

    1. We do not have the questions so there is no way we could possibly have the answers…what we see is only what we think we should see …if we do not have the eye to see the beyond how can we question it and what would the answer be?

  4. Met you are the best, I rate on this one, 100% remember before science and medicine people lived up to 900 years, we have every cure on this earth for every incurable decease, is just because we don’t have the knowledge of it yet, most importantly, our thought is not like God’s he’s unsearchable, the greatest scientist will never be able to understand the mystery of The Most High God, so to question or try to even fathom the reason why he does or does not, will only leads to a dead end, we will never know, His thoughts are far from our own, just leave it alone, not in a million years will man be able to unscramble the mystery of God, to try that, will only leave you in a mental institution, mad as Shad, Lol.

    1. Amen n Amen Sketel and Met a 1000 years is like a day to God we can never begin to understand him

  5. Love dis dialogue between two very intelligent people. Metty yuh is like HTB bun… Hard To Beat…This story is nothing but the work of God. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” – Isaiah 40:28 (New International Version)

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