Michael Schumacher’s doctors have started trying to wake up the Formula One great from the medically induced coma he has been in since a skiing accident last month, his manager said on Thursday.
The 45-year-old Schumacher suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock in the French resort of Meribel on Dec. 29. The seven-time Formula One champion has been in an induced coma at Grenoble University Hospital since then, although his condition stabilized following surgery after initially being described as critical.
“Michael’s sedation is being reduced in order to allow the start of the waking up process, which may take a long time,” Schumacher’s manager, Sabine Kehm, said in a statement.
Schumacher was being kept artificially sedated and his body temperature was lowered to between 34?C and 35?C to reduce swelling in the brain, reduce its energy consumption and allow it to rest.
Experts said it was a good sign that Schumacher’s doctors were trying to bring him out of the coma and that the first 24 hours would be critical.
“It means they have probably seen the pressure in his skull reduced,” said Clemens Pahl, a brain trauma expert at King’s College Hospital in London.
Pahl warned that if Schumacher has not recovered enough to wake up on his own, doctors might need to put him back in the coma.
“It could be that swelling in his brain hasn’t come to an end yet, so they might need to increase the medications again,” he said.
Pahl said that was not uncommon in patients with brain injuries and that sometimes it took several attempts to bring someone out of an induced coma.
Brain experts said it would be fundamental to determine whether Schumacher was aware of his surroundings and could respond to basic commands from doctors.
“This is a test to see what his function is like,” said Anthony Strong, an emeritus chair in neurosurgery at King’s College London.
Still, experts said it would likely be months before Schumacher’s prognosis becomes clear — and that lasting brain damage is a possibility.
“If he pulls through, he may not be the man he was,” said Tipu Aziz, head of neurosurgery at Oxford University. “Given the length of time he’s been in [intensive care], he has clearly had a very severe head injury. It’s too early to know how intact he will be, but I would guess there is going to be some kind of lasting damage.”