Among the estimated 500,000 people in the United States who struggle each year to recover from brain injuries, Ryan Corbin might be the most famous.
Eighteen months ago, the eldest grandson of singer Pat Boone accidentally crashed through his Brentwood apartment building's skylight and plunged 40 feet to the concrete floor. He fractured his skull, broke his jaw, and ruptured his spleen. As paramedics arrived, Corbin, then 25, stopped breathing.
Since then, his slow but steady healing has been called miraculous -- in Christian magazines and supermarket tabloids, from church pulpits, on Web sites and on four "Larry King Live" shows on CNN, including a Christmas special that airs today.
"He's Exhibit A for the power of prayer," said Boone, a crooner and movie star who became popular in the 1960s for his baby-faced looks, white shoes and gospel songs. "You can only attribute his recovery, in light of the medical prognosis, to God."
The fascination with Corbin's recovery goes beyond his minor link to celebrity.
For those who believe, Corbin's healing illustrates the efficacy of prayer and serves as a testament to the tens of thousands of messages spiritually transmitted throughout the world to God for the 26-year-old's healing.
And today marks another milestone in Corbin's story: his first Christmas at home since the accident.
"This is certainly the best Christmas I've ever had," said Lindy Michaelis, Ryan's mother and the daughter of Pat Boone, sitting in her Coto de Caza home in south Orange County. "He's living with us, he knows who we are, he knows his life has purpose. Seeing him, it's easy to point to a loving God."
Of course, giving God credit for what some consider to be a miraculous healing leaves open the question that has nagged the faithful for ages: What about those who don't get healed, despite the prayers of many?
"If we knew why everything happens the way it does, then we'd be as smart as God," said Rick Warren, Corbin's pastor and founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.
"But we're not God, so we have a limited capacity for understanding the big picture."
Within days of Corbin's accident, family members asked Christians through churches and on the Internet to pray for his recovery.
Ryan's father Doug Corbin set up a hotline with daily recordings so people could pray for his specific needs. And Boone went on "Larry King Live" to ask viewers around the world to pray for his grandson.
"We got prayers by the millions from all over the world," Boone said.
After the first King appearance, Boone said he wondered: "What do you think the apostle Paul or Peter would give for the opportunity that we just got: to go into 220 nations and have 50 million people watching?"
Family members said doctors informed them that Ryan would mostly likely remain in a vegetative state the rest of his life.
Boone remembers one day when a neurologist showed him a CAT scan of Corbin's brain. He asked the doctor about the large black pattern that covered most of its brain's surface.
"The doctor said, 'That's atrophy,' " Boone recalled. " 'And that's permanent.' "
Family members did get doctors to concede that brain injuries are notoriously fickle, and the brain can bypass permanent damage by rewiring itself. But Boone said the physicians always warned them, "Don't get your hopes up."
Today Corbin is just beginning to talk in whispers, a few words at a time, after an 18-month medical ordeal that included six hospitals, four operations, 36 units of blood, doctors who asked family members to consider when they wanted to shut down his life support system, five months in a coma, and hundreds of hours in rehabilitation therapy.
A 6-foot-4 former basketball star at Irvine High School who was president of his Pepperdine University fraternity, Corbin remains in a wheelchair, his left arm curled tight against his body.
He's not paralyzed, but the signals from his brain have been jumbled enough that connections have been lost and need to be reestablished.
These days his progress is measured in tiny increments. On Monday, for instance, he started biting his nails again.
"You broke that habit; let's not start that again," Michaelis teasingly tells Ryan, bringing a smile to his face.
"He laughs and jokes now," said Mark Desmond, director of Tustin-based High Hopes, a head-injury program that Corbin attends twice a week. "He's a miracle. Can you attribute that to God? Yes. To great family support? Yes. And to his faith and people who have been praying for him all over the world."
Academic research over the last decade that tried to determine the efficacy of prayer in healing has produced mixed results and wide debate within the medical community.