Paris: Michael Schumacher may come out of his artificial coma, only to be plunged into a natural one.
Doctors treating Schumacher believe the toughest phase is yet to come for the Formula 1 legend as he faces weeks being weaned off the drugs which put him into an artificially-induced coma for the past month.
And wife Corinna and children Gina Marie, 16, and son Mick, 14, have been warned if he does come round, he may face intensive physical and speech therapy over many months, perhaps even years.
But professor Heinzpeter Moecke, director of the Institute for Emergency Medicine at the Asklepios Clinic in Hamburg warned: “There is unfortunately the risk that in sneaking out of a deep artificial sleep the patient is then in a waking coma.
“This could mean a permanent vegetative state where Schumacher would effectively be paralysed.”
Moeke added: “Waking up from this artificial sleep can leave the patient initially confused, not sure of who he is or where he is.
“If he is so agitated and attempted to remove tubes from his body, the doctors could induce him into another light sleep.”
Last week, Schumacher was said to have been ‘responding to instructions’ as doctors gradually began the process of slowly bringing him out of his coma.
The seven-time F1 world champion is also reported to have blinked during brain tests. He had undergone a number of neurological examinations since Monday and has responded ‘positively’, according to L’Equipe newspaper which cited ‘very reliable sources’.
After gradually reducing the sedation of the patient, the team of head doctor Emmanuel Gay have been testing his neurological reflexes since Monday.
“During the early stages the patient blinked,” the newspaper had reported.
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 December 29.
He has been in an induced coma in Grenoble University Hospital since then, although his condition stabilised 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, had said in a statement.
Schumacher was being kept artificially sedated and his body temperature was lowered to between 93.2 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, to reduce swelling in the brain, reduce its energy consumption and allow it to rest. Kehm had said she was only providing an update on Schumacher’s condition to clarify media leaks, and that no further details would be provided.
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 that the pressure in his skull has reduced,” said Dr Clemens Pahl, a brain trauma expert at King’s College Hospital in London, according to the Daily Mail report.
Dr Pahl warned that if Schumacher hasn’t 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.