A student left in a coma following a horrific car crash has been dubbed a ‘walking miracle’ after she wiggled her toe moments before doctors were about to turn off her life-support machine.
Sam Hemming suffered devastating head injuries when the car she was travelling in with her boyfriend flipped over on the M6 – leaving her brain dead and with ‘no hope of recovery’.
The impact of the collision caused her head to smash through the window and hit the central reservation, taking her left ear off and breaking four bones in her neck.
But despite her injuries, the 22-year-old law graduate defied doctors and fought back from the brink of death.
Miracle: Sam Hemming pictured while in critical care in July. She has now been dubbed a ‘walking miracle’ after she wiggled her toe moments before doctors turned off her life-support
Sam was travelling in the car with her boyfriend Tom Curtis (pictured together before the crash) when they crashed on the M6 on July 20
The 22-year-old with her mother Carol – who had been told by doctors to prepare for the worst
Sam was airlifted to hospital where surgeons operated on her for six hours before placing her in a medically-induced coma.
Some 19 days later doctors advised her devastated parents to prepare for the worst and to switch off her life-support machine after she was confirmed brain dead.
A harrowing photograph of Sam in her hospital bed was taken by her mother Carol, 44, as she made a heart-breaking farewell to her daughter.
Carol said her daughter ‘literally came back from the dead’, adding: ‘Sammy shouldn’t be alive. She suffered the worst injuries anyone could have in a car crash.
‘We gathered in her room and said our farewells. They turned the life support machine off and I screamed.’
But incredibly, Sam ‘wiggled her big toe’ and medics kept her in a controlled coma.
Days later she was given a tracheotomy and when her life-support machine was turned off again, she was able to breathe on her own.
Remarkably, just eight weeks later she was deemed well enough to return home in Credenhill, Hereford, where she now lives with Carol and dad Jason, 43.
Despite her horrific injuries, the law graduate defied doctors and fought back from the brink of death. Pictured right, Sam in hospital drinking for the first time since her accident
The undamaged side of Sam’s brain has developed in such a way she was able to learn how to walk and talk again
Sam, who got a 2:1 in Law from Bangor University, was getting a lift with her boyfriend to Birmingham New Street station on her way back to her Hereford home when the car crashed on the M6 on July 20.
Her boyfriend Tom Curtis, 21, escaped with minor injuries but Sam was airlifted to University Hospital Coventry where surgeons battled to save her life.
Sam underwent three operations, as well as having metal plates inserted into her arm which had three fractures. She also broke four bones in her neck.
Despite suffering head injuries which left one side of her brain ‘dead’, the other part of her brain which is not normally used was undamaged.
And it has developed in such a way Sam was able to learn how to walk and talk again.
Sam with her boyfriend Tom Curtis, who escaped with only minor injuries following the crash
The 22-year-old’s mother Carol (left), said: ‘Sammy shouldn’t be alive. She suffered the worst injuries anyone could have in a car crash’
Her mother Carol added: ‘They turned the life support back on and over the next few days the doctors tried turning if off two more times.
‘They usually give a patient three attempts to see if they can breathe on their own before switching if for good and letting the patient die but before they switched it off for a final time one of her specialists said her big toe wiggled.
‘She was responding to heat so there was still some brain function. It was amazing. She had literally come back from the dead. If she hadn’t wiggled her toe she wouldn’t be here today.
‘Doctors are totally in shock. You see the specialised surgeons, paramedics and police and they look at Sammy and you see their mouths fall open.
‘Her condition is different to other people because of the part of the brain which most people don’t use – hers has developed into speech and movement.
‘That is why all the neurosurgeons were getting so excited as it is very rarely seen.
‘Because of the steps she has taken, she is a walking miracle. Doctor’s are totally in shock.’
Sam (pictured in April this year), now undergoes daily physiotherapy and is being treated for post traumatic stress disorder while doctors work to help her brain develop more functions
Sam was airlifted to University Hospital Coventry (pictured), where surgeons battled to save her life
Sam broke several bones – including four in her neck – and had to have metal plates put in her arm
Carol, who has three other children, Tim, 24, Callum, 15, and Nikkita, 14, and has given up work to care for Sam full-time, added: ‘It was horrible seeing one of your kids lying in a bed with so many injuries because everything above her chest was injured.
‘I never cried so much in my life. The paramedic who was at the scene and stayed with her right from the beginning said to me, “she’s not supposed to be alive.”
Sam with Dale, one of the paramedics who stayed with her following the crash
‘It’s slow progress but Sam is determined to get better and wants to practice law.
‘She’s already beaten huge odds to be here today so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t amaze us all again.’
Sam now undergoes daily physiotherapy and is being treated for post traumatic stress disorder while doctors work to help her brain develop more functions.
Sam’s big toe on her right foot wiggled after a medic accidentally brushed it with an ice-cold wipe.
Carol said: ‘The computer showed some brain activity. It was amazing.
‘She would have had the heat and cold test before they switched the machine off but they brushed it across her toe earlier than expected and it saved her.
‘They’d done the tests all over her body the day they were going to turn her life support off for the last time and again the results showed there was no brain activity.
‘It’s amazing because the only time the tests showed a positive result was when the ice-cold wipe brushed her toe by accident.
‘No one knows why all the other tests were negative but brain injuries are complex and unpredictable.’
The 22-year-old graduate remains determined to pursue her dreams and become a solicitor
Sam was making her way home when she was involved in the car crash which nearly claimed her life
Sam said: ‘I can’t remember the crash at all but I know I was coming home at the time.
‘I can remember graduating and that’s it really. When I look at the pictures of me in the coma it seems unreal and when I hear that my toe saved me it’s amazing.
‘I’m hugely grateful for all the medical staff who have helped me. I can walk in short bursts and I have a walking frame and wheelchair to help me when I’m feeling weaker.
‘My talking is fine and I just want to get better now. Before the accident I wanted to be a solicitor and that ambition hasn’t changed. I still want a career in the law.’
THE DIFFERENT LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
One of the greatest difficulties for doctors treating patients who have suffered severe brain injuries is telling the difference between a coma, a vegetative state and minimal consciousness.
A coma is when a person shows no signs of being awake and no signs of being aware. A person in a coma lies with their eyes closed and doesn’t respond to their environment, voices or pain.
Patients in a vegetative state tend to have opened eyes and show periods of sleep and wakefulness.
Diagram shows brain glucose metabolism in patients in vegetative state (left) and minimally conscious patients (middle) and fully conscious (right)
But they are unaware of themselves or others and unable to think, respond or do anything on purpose.
Those in a minimally conscious state show only intermittent and minimal signs of awareness of themselves or their environment.
There have been various cases where have reported being able to hear what is going on around them.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that scans can detect signs of awareness in patients thought to be closed off from the world.
Earlier this year, researchers from Denmark, Belgium and Yale University discovered the amount of sugar consumed by brain cells can show a person’s current level of awareness.
It could soon be able to predict whether coma patients are likely to wake up using a common brain scan.