The inspiration for this post is an article, titled “Arizona College Student Bounces Back From the Dead After Nearly Giving Organs,” which was written by Susan Donaldson James for ABC News. Text under the heading “Article” was written by Donaldson James. I chose to include the article in this post because the story is about overcoming adversity, beliefs, and decision making — all of which are important to readers of this blog.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.”
The MRI came back with encouraging news during the day and by evening Schmid “inexplicably” followed the doctors’ commands, holding up two fingers.
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. “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.”
Click here to read the full article written by Susan Donaldson James.
Thanks to Frank Pray and Wendy for sharing the article with me; Susan Donaldson James for writing the article that inspired this post; ABC News for committing its resources to sharing the story; Sam Schmid for sharing his story with Donaldson James; the many organizations (such as Center for Transitional Neuro Rehabilitation at Barrow Neurological Institute) and people who contributed to Schmid’s survival and recovery; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture, video, and text I used in this post.