After severe head trauma, coma, AZ man now walking, talking, 'feeling all right' - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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After severe head trauma, coma, AZ man now walking, talking, 'feeling all right'

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Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 7:00 am

Susan Regan said no one exactly asked her to take her son Sam Schmid, off life support and donate his organs following an Oct. 19 traffic crash on Tucson’s east side that left his University of Arizona roommate dead.

“What I remember, since I was in kind of a shock myself, is that the people who were surrounding us were just asking about Sam and what kind of person Sam was, and what Sam’s goals were, and what he thought was important in life, what he considered his quality of life,’’ she explained at a press conference. “That led (his brother) John and I to think about what Sam would want.’’

On Friday, though, Sam had a chance to speak for himself after what even his doctor said might be described as a miracle.

“Right now I’m feeling all right,’’ he said, though the slow pace of his speech and the slight slurring clearly showed what he had been through. “Except for the rehabilitation I still have to do, (I’m) doing pretty good.’’

Especially for someone who was nearly given up for dead.

Neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler, who also serves as director of St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Institute, said the crash left 21-year-old Schmid with a severe head injury which put him into a very deep coma. And Spetzler also said that Schmid developed a “traumatic aneurism’’ in his brain, essentially a balloon in the blood vessel that, had it burst, would have killed him.

Even after surgery, Schmid remained in a coma. That led to consideration about a week later whether life support should be discontinued.

But Spetzler said that, after doing an MRI scan, he counseled the family to hold off making a decision. As it turned out, that night Schmid was able to follow a command to hold up two fingers.

“Now, that may not seem like a lot to you,’’ the doctor said. But he said it really is significant.

“Somebody that’s comatose, to be able to hold up two fingers means they’re receiving the signal, they’re interpreting the signal, they’re sending signals through the nerves to the muscle fibers to be able to do that,’’ Spetzler explained.

“So it’s an incredible loop that shows you the ability of that brain to function,’’ he continued. “That was like the fireworks going off.’’

Since his first day out of bed, Schmid has been in intensive therapy. And Christina Kwasnica, Barrow’s director ofneurorehabilitation, said he was well enough to get a pass to go home for Christmas, though she said it would be a week until he actually is discharged.

But “home’’ won’t be Tucson, at least not for awhile. Kwasnica said the family has moved to Phoenix and is staying with relatives because of all the work Schmid still has to do.

Kwasnica said she cannot say how much her patient will be able to get back to where he was before the crash or whether there will be a “new normal’’ for him.

“It’s so early in Sam’s injury that we have no idea what that is and where the ceiling is,’’ she said. “As long as we’re continuing to improve, I anticipate improvement will continue.’’

Schmid does have some goals.

“I just want to be able to get back to Tucson, just what my life used to be,’’ he said. Schmid said he wants to sleep in his own bed.

He also envisions going back to the University of Arizona where he was majoring in business.

More immediately, Schimid wants something other than hospital food which he said all tastes the same.

But Kwasnica said things will be different.

“If you have a life-changing event, it’s going to change his perspective on life and his family’s, no matter what amount of neurologic injury there is afterwards,’’ she said.

“We have to keep working through it and finding where things stop,’’ Kwasnica continued. But she said that it’s still “very early’’ in the process to know what all that means, saying it usually takes a year in therapy before figuring out how far someone can progress.

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