NRL News

Man Wakes as Doctors Talk Organ Donation with Family

by | Dec 23, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

It’s a story that ought to send a chill up and down your spine. As doctors broached the topic of organ donation with the family of Sam Schmid, the 21-year-old college student “began to respond, holding up two fingers on command,” reports Susan Donaldson James of Good Morning America. “Today he is walking with the aid of a walker, and his speech, although slow, has improved.”  Doctors say a full recovery is likely.

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“Nobody could ever give me a better Christmas present than this — ever, ever, ever,” said his mother, Susan Regan. “I tell everyone, if they want to call it a modern-day miracle, this is a miracle.” James reports that she added, “I have friends who are atheists who have called me and said, ‘I am going back to church.'”

“I am dumb-founded with his incredible recovery in such a short time,” said his doctor, renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler. “His recovery was really remarkable considering the extent of his lethal injuries.” 

Schmid was critically injured in an October 19 car accident in Tucson, which took the life of his friend and roommate. The local hospital would not treat the University of Arizona because his injuries were so severe.

“He was airlifted to the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix, where specialists performed surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm,” James reports.

After surgery Schmid did not seem to be responding. “There was plenty wrong — he had a hemorrhage, an aneurysm and a stroke from the part of the aneurysm,” Spetzler told James. “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.”

Spetzler said he didn’t want to give the family false hope, but at the same time the family was being 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.”

“Schmid’s mother said no one ‘specifically’ asked if her son would be a donor, but they “subtly talk to you about quality of life.”

“’At some point, I knew we had to make some sort of decision, and I kept praying,’ said Regan.

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

“’It was like fireworks all going off at the same time,’ said Spetzler.”

As is so often the case with brain traumas, the consensus of all those involved is that the support Schmid received from not only his family and friends but also the care at Barrow may have made all the difference.

For his part Dr. Spetzler told James, “You get incredible highs when you save someone facing neurological devastation or death,” adding, “That is counter-pointed by the incredible lows when you fail to help someone.”

“In a way, his recovery was truly miraculous,” he said. “It’s a great Christmas story.”

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