MECHANICSBURG – John Samples, a teenager from Mechanicsburg, was fighting for playing time on the football team a year ago. Two months ago, he was fighting for his life. Now, he’s fighting for his way of life.
“You hear us use the word ‘fight’ quite a bit,” M’burg football coach Kurt Forrest said. “You’re either a fighter or you’re not. Between his freshman and sophomore year, Johnny became the definition of that.”
Samples was involved in a serious roll-over car accident on April 15 near state Route 161 and South Parkview Road around 4:20 p.m. He suffered massive trauma, including a head injury that threatened his life. Medics flew Samples from the scene via helicopter to Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton, where he was rushed through evaluations and necessary surgery.
At 5:15, John’s mother, Sheri Ghindea, got the phone call no parent wants to hear.
“The only thing they told us is we had to get to the hospital immediately,” Ghindea said. John’s father, Charlie Samples, was also notified.
Ghindea called her daughter, Kayla Samples – John’s sister – and told her to hurry home. She was held up in traffic by the very accident that, unbeknownst to her, had injured her brother.
By 6 or 7 p.m., Charlie Samples, his wife Karla, Sheri and her boyfriend Mike and Kayla had arrived at Miami Valley Hospital.
Sheri recalls a long wait, perhaps four hours, before a discussion occurred with medical staff about John’s condition. They informed her that he was unstable and critical, and that the following 72 hours would be a fight between life and death for him.
“The main concern was that they suspected he suffered from severe brain damage. We were told a lot of other things, which ended up being a broken femur, a broken pelvis, a broken jaw, a broken collar bone, two broken ribs, a broken vertebrae, punctured lungs, and many broken teeth,” Ghindea said. “We were told, at that time, that if John survived the next 72 hours, they could not guarantee how much of John we would get back, if any, because they suspected severe shearing in the brain, as well as three brain bleeds.”
It was another two or three hours before the family was allowed to see John.
“They warned me that he wouldn’t look the same,” Ghindea said. “But he looked good, considering what he’d been through. He looked like my John.”
Samples had lost a lot of teeth – his biggest cosmetic flaw and to this point one of the most enduring nuisances for him. Because of the exposed nerve endings, eating anything is painful. But reconstructive surgery will have to wait until John can be put under anesthesia. Speech is also difficult, but John’s communicating via written word.
Even that is a miracle. Doctors estimate to Ghindea that John is at the expected one-year mark in recovery, just nine weeks after the accident.
“It’s just amazing, the support,” she said. “I don’t believe he’d be here today without God and prayer.”
There were indeed a bunch of things going just right to get John where he is. The medics called the helicopter immediately without seeing the scene first, the chopper was able to land close to the scene and, perhaps most importantly, a spot opened up for him at Ohio State’s Dodd Hall for his rehabilitation.
“OSU is a great place to be,” Ghindea said. “To us, they’re the miracle workers, there.”
Following his nine days in the intensive care unit at Miami Valley and eight more in the trauma unit, John entered Dodd Hall in an experimental program, where he was perhaps the first patient. He wouldn’t have ordinarily qualified for rehabilitation at Dodd.
“They had done lots of research, but very little tests,” Ghindea said about the program. “He was young, he was in the best shape of his life. That probably saved his life, but it also helped him get in there.”
John was still in a coma upon arrival. Ghindea credits Dodd with helping John regain consciousness.
“Upon arrival at Dodd Hall, we found out John didn’t really improve to the level that they were used to taking, but that they were doing a study on a new program on Developments of Consciousness, and because John was still in his coma, he was a good candidate to be their ‘first’ patient to go through this program,” Ghindea said. “Basically, they worked on altering medications and rehabilitation methods to try to get him to emerge from his coma.”
Working toward recovery
From there, Samples, a dedicated football player and wrestler at Mechanicsburg, began putting his work ethic and discipline to use for something bigger than games.
“He’s just a competitive young man. Whenever you challenge him, it’s like lighting a fire,” Coach Forrest said. “It’s just been amazing to watch. He continues to define what being a fighter is in our culture.”
Worth noting is Forrest’s personal experience with John’s drive and determination, which saw a player that operated primarily on the junior varsity as a freshman blossom into the leading tackler on an elite defense as a sophomore this past fall.
Now, Samples serves as the benchmark for the program that Ohio State put him through.
“The staff at Dodd Hall continues to tell us that John is progressing at a rate that they have never expected could happen,” Ghindea said. “We still have a long way to go with his recovery, but we have never seen a more determined boy. He tries with every ounce of his being to excel at every activity and asks for additional therapy every time he can.”
Just a week ago, the staff at Dodd Hall decided it was time for John to go home. So, with a convoy of fire trucks and a welcome party lining the street, Samples and his family arrived back in Mechanicsburg on June 10.
Support from community and beyond
Support has poured in from Alaska, South Africa and Dubai, among other places. And even from Pittsburgh, where current and former Steelers – John’s favorite team – expressed their wishes for continued improvement. Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis even sent a message of encouragement.
“The look on his face was priceless,” Ghindea said. “He’s an inspiration to a lot of people.”
Count Forrest among those many inspired people.
“When you need somebody to be there, there’s a whole community there,” Forrest said. “It’s a pretty emotional thing and it’s been pretty gratifying to watch our community rally around the Samples family.”
In fact, the people of Mechanicsburg have been there from the beginning, with between 60 and 100 people waiting in the reception room at Miami Valley to offer prayers and hugs to the Samples family and one another the night of the accident.
“It was one of the most moving and touching things I’ve ever seen in my life, to be honest,” Forrest said.
John just completed the first of his outpatient therapies, with the same odds-defying progress that’s becoming the norm for him.
“He did some walking, while talking. He balanced a ball on small cones, moving from cone to cone while balancing the ball on the next one,” Ghindea said. “He did a little running, among other things. We were told that John is stable enough, when he stands and walks, that we do not have to hold onto his gait belt anymore. We just need to be close just in case.”
Now, it’s a long road back to normalcy for John and his family. Samples was able to fish a couple days after getting home and caught a small bluegill. He also plans on participating in both football and wrestling in whatever capacity he is able and is on pace to perhaps return to school in the fall, where he was a straight-A student prior to the crash.
“At the rate he’s going, we’re hopeful that will happen,” Ghindea said. “John is loving being home, and has begun to dabble a little in social media. I am getting texts from his friends with screenshots asking if that is really him ‘liking’ stuff. It makes me smile to know he is able to communicate with friends again.”
The Samples family plans on running a benefit for John on July 10 at Goshen Memorial Park from 2 to 6 p.m. that will coincide with the village’s Summer Celebration. A charity wrestling tournament will also be held that day.
The family also has a GoFundMe page set up to accept donations. For more information about both those endeavors and to keep up-to-date on John’s condition, visit The John Samples Recovery Page on Facebook.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1775) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.