The seven-times Formula One world champion, who fell and hit his head on a rock while skiing off-piste, would have died if he had not been wearing a ski helmet, medics say
Michael Schumacher’s treatment for severe head injuries has entered a “decisive” 48-hour period that will determine whether he survives, his doctors have said.
The seven-times Formula One world champion, who fell and hit his head on a rock while skiing off-piste, would have died if he had not been wearing a ski helmet, medics said.
Specialists have refused to speculate on whether he will survive or whether he has suffered permanent brain damage, as his treatment is being taken “hour by hour”.
However, he has “a great number of lesions” on his brain after his accident in the French Alps on Sunday.
Schumacher, 44, remains critically ill in a coma and is being kept in a state of hypothermia to minimise the risk of further brain damage. Doctors said his supreme fitness would help in his fight to stay alive.
David Coulthard, who raced against Schumacher for 13 years, backed his friend to “come through the greatest challenge of his life” as former drivers and the German leader Angela Merkel sent messages of support to his family.
Schumacher had ignored advice to skiers to stay on the pistes in the resort of Meribel, where he owns a chalet, after heavy snow increased the risk of avalanches and obscured rocks, making off-piste skiing highly dangerous.
He hit the right side of his head and Jean-François Payen, chief anaesthetist at the Grenoble University Hospital Centre where Schumacher is being treated, said his helmet “protected him in part” from the “violence” of the impact, adding: “Someone who hadn’t been wearing a helmet would not have got here. Despite the helmet he has serious lesions (injuries).” Both hemispheres of the brain have injuries, he said.
Prof Payen said: “It is too early, at this stage, to make a judgement about the future of Michael Schumacher. His situation is critical.
“We work hour by hour, night and day at his bedside. It is very serious. I cannot say any more at the moment and anything about what outcome we can expect. I can’t say anything about his future. It’s too early to speak about consequences.”
He said Schumacher had undergone emergency surgery after arriving at the hospital to remove blood from a haematoma, or bleeding inside the brain, and there were no plans for a second operation.
The haematoma caused swelling in a “critical” location in the brain and his treatment is geared to reducing the swelling, which can damage brain function because the brain cannot expand within the skull.
His body is being kept at a temperature of 34-35C, two to three degrees below normal, to reduce the brain’s need for oxygen.
“He is in an artificial coma and a state of hypothermia under prolonged general anaesthetic induced by drugs to minimize any stimuli that is likely to consume more oxygen in his brain,” said Prof Payen. “Our goal is to ensure proper oxygenation of the brain.”
Prof Stéphan Chabardès, the neurosurgeon who operated on him, said: “The next 24 hours are critical. He is under 24-hour treatment.
“His severe trauma worried us. Unfortunately he has serious brain contusions (bruising) and lesions.
“It is now necessary to protect his brain but this does not require surgery. We monitor developments. The next 24 or 48 hours will be decisive.”
Schumacher was skiing 6,800ft up with his 14-year-old-son Michael Jr when he slipped and fell while skiing between two pistes. Rescuers were on hand within minutes, and found Schumacher conscious but “extremely agitated” and unable to answer questions. His limbs were moving involuntarily and his condition “rapidly worsened”.
His son, wife Corinna and daughter Gina-Maria are at the hospital, where they released a statement thanking the medical team and “the people from around the world who have expressed their sympathy and sent their best wishes for Michael’s recovery”.
Prof Gérard Saillant, a friend of the family, said: “His wife is worried, his children are worried and we all very worried about his state of health.”
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said she was “extremely shocked along with millions of Germans” by the news, adding: “We wish his wife, his children and his family strength and mutual support.”
Schumacher’s former Benetton team-mate Martin Brundle said: “Come on Michael, give us one of those race stints at pure qualifying pace to win through, like you used to. You can do it.”