Late last year, Sam Mills was living the carefree life of a teenager. He was active in school, he worked a part-time job that he loved and spent his free time with his four siblings, parents and friends. However, the day after Christmas 2020, the 17-year old’s life changed in an instant. Sam was heading home from work when he lost control of his car in Katy, TX.
His vehicle flipped multiple times and he was ejected approximately 40 feet. The car finally landed upside down, and all of the windows were shattered. A couple driving by noticed the car off the road and found Mills lying in tall grass. They called 9-1-1 and soon after, Memorial Hermann Life Flight arrived on the scene and transported him to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, one of two Level 1 Trauma Centers in the Greater Houston area.
“The police came to our home to notify us that one of our children had been in a bad accident and was picked up by Memorial Hermann Life Flight,” said Carrie Mills, Sam’s mother. “Like any parent, we were in shock and devastated. My husband and I made the nearly hour drive to the hospital while calling the rest of our children to alert them of what had happened.”
When Carrie and her husband arrived at the hospital, Sam was in the emergency center, unable to move. He was also on a ventilator to help him breathe. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) with bleeding and swelling on the left side of his brain and fractures on the left side of his face and body. The active teen, who played football and participated in track and other outdoor activities, would spend the next ten days fighting for his life in the ICU.
“I don’t remember much from my time in the hospital, but I do remember waking up not knowing where I was or why I was there,” Sam said. “I was shocked by the details of what happened when my mom shared them with me.”
A few days later, as his condition improved and his body began to heal, he was discharged and admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where he spent one week undergoing round-the-clock, in-patient rehabilitation to address his injuries.
“Sam came to TIRR Memorial Hermann battling mostly cognitive issues, due to his TBI,” said Dr. Matthew Lin, attending physician, Brain Injury Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “It was important to work on those things that required daily physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions to help him recover from the brain damage he sustained in the collision.”
Lin is also a clinical assistant professor of physical medicine & rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
Sam was able to walk out of TIRR Memorial Hermann after one-week of rehabilitation care and was greeted with hugs and cheers from his family and therapy team.
Shortly after his discharge, he began his outpatient rehabilitation journey in the TIRR Memorial Hermann Challenge Program. The Challenge Program provides traumatic brain injury and stroke survivors with a comprehensive range of rehabilitation services on their road to recovery.
Sam spent approximately three weeks in the program where he focused on speech, occupational and physical therapy.
“Sam’s TBI impacted his cognitive function so we spent a great deal of his sessions working on the injuries that weren’t so obvious,” said his speech therapist, Veronica Garcia-Lechuga. “We worked on tasks to help ensure academic success such as note-taking skills, mock tests, and PowerPoint presentations to address public speaking. Sam’s processing skills and memory greatly improved from his initial day in speech therapy.”
Exactly three months after the collision, Sam graduated from the Challenge Program and got to ring the bell to mark the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
“I am forever grateful for all the nurses, doctors and medical team that played a role in keeping me alive,” he said. “I’m also thankful for my therapy teams at TIRR for inpatient and outpatient rehab and for working hard to get me back to where I could return to school and work.”
Today, Sam is now working to finishing his senior year of high school. He looks forward to his prom, graduation and going off to college in the fall.