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Michael Schumacher showing signs of consciousness

Date

John Burns

Coma: Michael Schumacher.

Coma: Michael Schumacher. Photo: Reuters

Grenoble: Michael Schumacher has "moments of consciousness and awakening", his spokeswoman said on Friday, in a sign of progress months after the formula one legend suffered devastating brain injuries in a ski accident.

Doctors put Schumacher in a medically induced coma after the December 29 accident in which he slammed his head on a rock while skiing at the French resort of Meribel with his son and friends, and little has filtered through since about his condition.

"Michael is making progress ... He shows moments of consciousness and awakening," Sabine Kehm said in brief a statement.

The 45-year-old remains in hospital in the French Alpine city of Grenoble, where he underwent two operations to remove life-threatening blood clots before being placed into a coma.

His family said at the end of January that drugs used to keep him in his deep sleep were being reduced with a view to bringing him back to consciousness.

"We are on his side during his long and difficult fight, together with the team of the hospital in Grenoble, and we keep remaining confident," Kehm said.

The statement gave no further details about his condition, asking instead for understanding of his family’s intention, maintained since the accident, of not disclosing medical details. It said this was “necessary to protect the privacy of Michael and his family, and to enable the medical team to work in full calmness.”

Still, Friday’s statement was a notable turn from the sparse and intermittent bulletins from the family and the medical team caring for Schumacher, 45, at the University Hospital Centre in Grenoble, a gateway to the French Alps.

It was there that he was taken by helicopter after striking his head on a rock while skiing in an ungroomed snowfield beside a high-altitude piste at the resort of Méribel, about 74 flying kilometres from Grenoble.

After weeks of increasingly pessimistic assessments by neurological experts not involved in his care but familiar with similar cases of brain injury, it appeared to signal at least a preliminary hope that Schumacher, winner of a record 91 races and 7 driver’s championships in a 19-year racing career, might yet make some form of recovery.

There have already been signs of hope for the seven-time world champion.

In February, his friend and former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa was quoted as saying that Schumacher seemed to respond to him during a visit.

"He is sleeping, he looks normal and he showed a few responses with his mouth," Massa told German tabloid Bild.

And last month, Schumacher's family said they were confident that the racing legend who defied death more than once on the track would pull through.

"There sometimes are small, encouraging signs, but we also know that this is the time to be very patient", Kehm said at the time in a statement.

However, experts cautioned against attaching too much significance to the family statement, saying it lacked detailed information needed to assess the German’s prospects.

“Unfortunately, the devil is in the details, and the details in this case are missing,” Peter Hamlyn, a British neurological surgeon specialising in sporting head injuries, said in an interview.

Dr Hamlyn is best known in British sports for his role in caring for Michael Watson, a boxer who suffered near-fatal brain injuries in a London bout in 1991, then spent months in a coma — and years learning to walk again and recover other basic living skills.

The case is often cited as an example of how sportsmen can make substantial recoveries, with years of rehabilitation, from grievous brain injuries.

By saying that Schumacher had moments of waking and consciousness, Dr Hamlyn said, the family statement was open to widely varying possibilities.

“You can have sleep-wake cycles in somebody who is as good as unconscious, and not likely to make a recovery,” he said. “By contrast, it could be that he still only has occasional signs of being conscious, but in those moments has been able to interact with those around him. The simplest example of that would be if a loved one says, ‘Squeeze my hand,’ and the patient squeezes their hand, because that means the patient has understood the words.

“If that has been the case with Michael, there would be a strong probability that Michael could make a substantial recovery.”

Schumacher’s wife, Corinna, often accompanied by the couple’s two teenage children, has been making daily trips to the hospital from their mansion at the Swiss village of Gland on the shore of Lake Geneva.

She has denied reports in European newspapers that she has been planning to spend part of Schumacher’s fortune from his racing days — commonly estimated at about $750 million — to build a clinic on the property at Gland and transfer her husband there. Friends of the family said the statement’s emphasis on the family working with the Grenoble doctors was intended as a signal that he will remain in Grenoble for the foreseeable future.

The drive to keep the former Formula One champion’s memory alive in the sport took a new step Friday as qualifying began for the Bahrain Grand Prix, the third of 19 races on this year’s calendar, with organisers renaming the first turn on the fast, sweeping track after Schumacher.

The last team he drove for, Mercedes-Benz, dominant in the season so far, has posted the words, “Keep Fighting, Michael,” alongside the cockpits of their two cars, driven by Lewis Hamilton of Britain and Nico Rosberg of Germany.

Hopes for Schumacher’s returning to consciousness, and eventually to a significant level of physical and mental health, had begun to falter weeks ago, after the Grenoble doctors announced they were making attempts to end the medically induced coma that was part of his initial treatment, along with two operations to remove separate hematomas, or blood clots, on his brain.

By gradually reducing levels of sedatives, medical experts said, the physicians were aiming to draw Schumacher back to consciousness and to a state when they could assess, by observing his response to various kinds of stimuli, the extent of any lasting brain impairment.

But weeks passed with no new statements by the family, apart from one last month in which Kehm said that “there sometimes are small, encouraging signs,” which she did not identify.

The history of brain injury is studded with cases, generally rare, of patients who have been comatose for months, in some cases years, before recovering consciousness, and in some cases returning to normal lives.

But in Schumacher’s case, the outlook has been dimmed from the start by the medical team’s disclosure that brain scans showed multiple hematomas throughout his brain that were not accessible to surgery. Clots of this kind, outside experts have said, pose a major risk of lasting impairment, a persistent vegetative state or death.

The New York Times, AFP

14 comments so far

  • While we all wish Michael the best of possible recoveries, it's important to acknowledge that after months in a coma and his subsequent inability to emerge from it renders his prognosis overwhelmingly dire.

    Commenter
    Jessica
    Location
    Mosman
    Date and time
    April 04, 2014, 11:07PM
    • Try a little prayer instead Jessica. Pessimism we can do without!

      Commenter
      Do Tell
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 05, 2014, 9:56AM
    • yes its a concern.
      hopefully in time he can lead a semi normal life.
      fingers crossed. never give up..... never.

      Commenter
      Jeb
      Date and time
      April 05, 2014, 12:48PM
    • @DoTell As a medical professional I can tell you that it's unethical to offer false hope and praying to imaginary Gods is greatly discouraged by the AMA as a method of healing patients.

      Commenter
      Jessica
      Location
      Mosman
      Date and time
      April 05, 2014, 9:17PM
    • @jessica. For one, With a negative, faithless and pessimistic attitude like that, I find it highly unlikely that you are a medical professional at all. No Drs discourage people from praying to their gods, because sometimes it's all that people have left. Hope and prayers. I sure hope I don't ever need your help or disheartening opinion.

      Commenter
      Some professional! Not a professional at all!
      Date and time
      April 06, 2014, 9:29PM
    • @Someprofessional! Perhaps you misread what I wrote. I was referring to myself as a medical professional. I'm sure some doctors/nurses/physiotherapists would pray for you, but on the whole ours is an evidence based profession and we leave spiritual guidance to others. That said, I would never discourage a patient from praying to their favorite God(s). And you can rest assured that if you should ever require my opinion on a medical matter it will be factual, forthright, and honest.

      Commenter
      Jessica
      Location
      Mosman
      Date and time
      April 06, 2014, 10:56PM
  • Michael, ,make a pit stop, come out, your engine revving. Your supporters are cheering you on the other side.

    Commenter
    Inspector Rex
    Location
    No place like Melbourne
    Date and time
    April 05, 2014, 12:01AM
    • Thanks for the memories Insp Rex, u have made a grown man tear up in the middle of the street.

      Let's go Michael, keep pushing.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Date and time
      April 05, 2014, 1:03PM
  • That's encouraging. It must be so hard for his family. Like millions around the world we would love for him to be restored to full health. It will be a miracle.

    Commenter
    Robyn
    Date and time
    April 05, 2014, 1:44AM
    • Very sad. Sounds like at best he is progressing to what is known as a minimally responsive state. Not a good outcome- for Michael, his family, or society.

      Commenter
      TBI
      Date and time
      April 05, 2014, 7:22AM

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