TUCSON, AZ, May 19, 2014 ( – Two-and-a-half years ago, Sam Schmid was considered brain-dead and a candidate to have his organs harvested. Today, he is back in school, playing basketball, and looking forward to becoming a veterinary technician.

In October 2011 Schmid, who was then a 21-year old college student, was coming back from coaching basketball at the Catholic school he had attended when he was struck by a van. ABC News reports that the Jeep Schmid was in “went airborne, hit a light pole and landed on its side.” The young man suffered a broken left hand, two broken femurs, and massive brain damage.

At the time of the accident, specialists performed surgery for an aneurysm threatening Schmid's life.


Afterwards, the young man was in a coma and thought to be brain-dead.

But he shocked his family and the medical staff when he raised two fingers on command. By December 2011, he was in a wheelchair, and speaking slowly.

The team of therapists — representing a cross-section of disciplines — that helped Schmid recover spent two years with him. Team leader Kristi Husk, a neuropsychologist, said that Schmid was in “a fragile state physically and emotionally” when the team began working with him. Now, she says, “his recovery is really extraordinary.”

“We see a lot of patients here, and Sam was at the most severe end of the spectrum,” said Husk, a 10-year veteran of the field. “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, who was recently discharged from the Center for Transitional Neuro Rehabilitation at Barrow Neurological Institute, where he has spent dozens of hours per week improving his cognitive and other abilities, says he was “surprised at the end result.” He told ABC that he “was willing to comply with all the help at Barrow and my recovery is based on the hard work I did.”

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“We are very proud of him” said Husk, whose training regimen for Schmid included volunteering at a gym for disabled people and working at the hospital's mail center and library. The goal was to help him once again learn social skills and work habits.

Susan Regan, Schmid's mother and a Roman Catholic, said her son's recovery was “a modern-day…miracle.” She says “friends who are atheists…have called me and said, 'I am going back to church.'”

Schmid's recovery can be partially credited to Dr. Robert Spetzler. The neurosurgeon, who has conducted more than 6,000 brain surgeries, told ABC that there were no fatal injuries on the MRI scan.

Despite Schmid's low chances of survival, Spetzler gave another MRI to see if the young man's brain had shut down. It had not, and within days of the accident Schmid was following the commands given to him by his doctor, most notably holding up two fingers.

While Schmid's story has received an unusually large amount of media attention, it is just one of dozens of cases where people considered “brain dead” have come out of hospitals mostly or fully recovered.

In 2012, the father of Stephen Thorpe refused to let his son die, despite statements from four doctors that Thorpe was unlikely to recover from injuries sustained in a car accident. Five weeks after Thorpe's father convinced doctors to let his son live – with the backing of two outside doctors – the 17-year old by was out of the hospital, largely recovered.

A 2012 lawsuit from a former employee of the New York Organ Donor Network claimed that 20 percent of people considered “brain dead” are still alive.


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