A student left in a coma following a horror 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.
Law graduate Sam Hemming, 22, suffered horrific head injuries when the car she was travelling in flipped over on a motorway.
She was airlifted to hospital where surgeons operated on her for six hours before placing her in a chemically-induced coma.
After 19 days doctors advised her devastated parents to switch off her life-support machine after she was confirmed brain dead and had no hope of recovery.
A disturbing picture of Sam in her hospital bed was taken by mum Carol, 44, as she made a heart-breaking farewell to her daughter.
But incredibly, moments before doctors prepared to switch her life support off, she “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 mum Carol and dad Jason, 43.
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.
Amazingly, the undamaged side of her brain developed in such a way Sam was able to learn how to walk and talk again.
Mum Carol said: “Sammy shouldn’t be alive. She suffered the worst injuries anyone could have in a car crash.
“Her head smashed through the window and hit the central reservation and took her left ear off and she was knocked her out.
“She was in the coma and after 19 days the doctors told us it was time to say goodbye. We gathered in her room and said our farewells.
“They turned the life support machine off and I screamed. She wasn’t breathing on her own.
“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. They gave her a tracheotomy and five days later when they turned her life support off she breathed on her own.
“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.
“Why her condition is different to other people is that 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 a totally in shock.”
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 he crashed on the M6 on July 20.
The car flipped over and she smashed her head on the metal central reservation leaving Sam with devastating head injuries.
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 with suffered three fractures.
She also broke four bones in her neck and her family were warned to prepare themselves for the worse.
Carol, who has three other children, Tim, 24, Callum, 15, and Nikkita, 14, 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.”
Carol, who has given up her job hiring bouncy castles to care for Sam full-time, added: “A doctor told me that Sam does have brain damage and is going to need care but that she shouldn’t be talking and she shouldn’t be able to take the steps she has as that part of her brain is dead.
“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.’
“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’s big toe on her right foot wiggled after a medic accidentally brushed it with an ice-cold wipe.
Her mum Carol said: “A member of staff brushed her toe with an ice-cold wipe and it wiggled.
“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.”
Sam, who is still hoping to pursue a career as a solicitor, said yesterday: “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.”
Doctors had already carried out heat and cold tests on Sam Hemming which showed there was no brain activity before they spotted her toe wiggle.
“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.”
A spokesperson for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust said: “We are really pleased to hear about the fantastic recovery that Samantha has made. It is great she is getting on really well at home.
“She came in with some very serious injuries and we were very happy to be here for her.”
Sam now undergoes daily physiotherapy and is being treated for post traumatic stress disorder while doctors work to help her brain develop more functions.