THE family of F1 racing legend Michael Schumacher have been informed by doctors treating him that the chances of recovery are now so slim that only “a miracle” can save him.
His wife Corinna and Ralf Schumacher, his brother, have been consulting other specialists in Europe over fears that he is being “written off” by his medical team, who now believe he may be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life, sources close to the family have said.
The 45-year-old winner of seven Grand Prix titles has been in an artificially induced coma for 69 days since badly injuring his brain during a low-speed ski accident in the French Alps on 29 December.
Most artificial comas last for a period of two to three weeks.
His management team, led by spokeswoman Sabine Kehm, insist that he remains in the “wake-up” phase of his treatment as doctors continue to decrease powerful narcotics that have keep him unconscious.
Official news about his condition is minimal, but sources close to the family say the prognosis for Schumacher is grave.
“He is in terrible shape but until the family issue a statement, we cannot write about it,” said one senior German journalist.
“The family have, we are told, been informed that only a miracle can bring him back now.”
Focus magazine reported a fortnight ago that the wake-up phase had been stopped due to complications and that he had been placed back in the coma.
That was denied by Ms Kehm, although experts say a man of Schumacher’s fitness levels would have expelled all the drugs from his body by now and that if he was going to wake up, he would have done so already. The past week had been regarded as vital for Schumacher.
At two months into his coma – induced to slow down brain functions, thus allowing it to heal more rapidly – doctors were hoping for a sign that he was aware of his environment.
They have been watching for a fluttering of eyelids or a movement of fingers that is more than a reflex nerve twitch.
“This has not happened,” said another source close to the family.
On Sunday, his wife Corinna spent her 45th birthday at his bedside with their children Gina Marie and Mick, his brother Ralf and his father Rolf Schumacher.
“They talked and talked and prayed for him to acknowledge their presence. But he remains comatose with tubes feeding him, supplying him with air, giving him medicine and removing waste from his body. The doctors have given it to them straight. There is little hope left that he will come out of this. Miracles happen, of course, and as a wealthy man he has the best care money can buy.
“But all the money in the world cannot fix what has happened to him.”
Schumacher’s joints and muscles are massaged three times daily to prevent atrophy and bedsores.
The coma suppressed his swallowing reflex, pain perception and respiratory drive. He has to be acutely monitored around the clock during this wake-up phase to see if such functions are returning naturally.
Experts say that perhaps the greatest risk of all facing Schumacher in his prone position is pneumonia.
The lack of a working swallowing mechanism can make saliva run into the lungs and trigger the potentially lethal respiratory infection. He has already beaten one lung infection.
His blood is also thinned to prevent thrombosis, and he is regularly turned and even put into a standing position at times to keep circulation moving.
Schumacher lies on a special air-filled mattress to prevent pressure sores and his urinary tract is under constant observation because of the danger of waste bacteria entering the bloodstream and causing a potentially fatal infection.
Gary Hartstein, a former F1 doctor, wrote on Sunday: “The majority of the patients that come out alive from a coma after this amount of time suffer severe disabilities.”
He said that supposed mouth movements that Schumacher’s former team-mate Felipe Massa observed were unlikely to be anything more than nerve reflexes that repeatedly occur in coma patients, and not conscious movements.