He said he remembers nothing of the accident nor coming around after being in an induced coma. "It wasn't until I woke up in rehab," he said. "But they told me about afterwards."
Schmid 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 the worst were the traumatic head injuries, which were complex and nearly always fatal.
All those involved say the support that Schmid got from family and friends -- and especially the care at Barrow -- may have made the difference. His brother John, a 24-year-old IT specialist, took a leave of absence from his job in Chicago to be at his brother's bedside.
Family flew in from around the country, and Delta Chi fraternity brothers made regular visits, even creating a mural for their friend.
"It seems like we were being led down a path to plan for the worst and that things were not going to work out," said John Schmid. "The miracle, to put it bluntly, was that in a matter of seven days, we went from organ donation to rehab. What a roller coaster it was."
He said his brother's speech is slow, but he understands what others are saying. Sam Schmid's athleticism -- as a basketball coach and snowboard instructor -- probably helped, he said.
"Honestly, I am at a loss for words," said John Schmid. "I am just so proud of Sam. He's got a strong constitution and he's very determined. But it's been quite an eye-opener for me -- a real learning curve. You can't take anything for granted."
Sam Schmid's surgeon agrees.
"You get incredible highs when you save someone facing neurological devastation or death," said Spetzler. "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."
Ever the scientist, Spetzler wasn't willing to speculate what a comatose patient hears. But he admits, "There are so many things we don't understand about the brain and what happens at the time someone is near death."
"The whole family was at his side during the day and at night hovering over him, then to see there was a chance after being ready to let go," he said. "But I am very much a big believer that positive thoughts and positive energy in a room can only help."