His mother, Susan Regan, who is vice president of the insurance company Lovitt-Touche, and a devout Roman Catholic, called his astounding recovery, “a modern-day … Christmas miracle.”
“I have friends who are atheists who have called me and said, 'I am going back to church,’” said the now 61-year-old.
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.
During surgery, Spetzler clipped the balloon-like aneurysm in the blood vessel -- "as if I were patching a tire," a procedure that eventually worked.
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."
Schmid's mother said no one "specifically" asked if her son would be a donor, but kept praying that her son would come around.
The MRI came back with encouraging news during the day and by evening Schmid "inexplicably" followed the doctors' commands, holding up two fingers.
His mother said today that the rigorous rehabilitation has been a "Godsend."
"Sam is as he is today as a result of their driving him to succeed. He gets better every day," she said. "I do think of it as a miracle. He was so close to death and came back. I do believe God has a huge part in this."
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.
“Those who are young have more endurance for the aggressive therapy than the older patients,” she said. “But, on the other hand, he is just starting to enter adulthood and had difficulty with the acceptance part. He wasn’t going to go right back to college, or graduate with his class or be with his friends. That was the tough part.”
“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.”