Is latest news about Schumacher really good news?

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

News on Monday that Michael Schumacher is out of his coma and hospital met a mixed reaction and overwhelmingly, the response was positive from around the globe, with figures like Ferrari‘s Fernando Alonso tweeting that he is “So happy [that] this is going in the good direction!”

However, not everyone is as convinced. Ex Formula 1 doctor Gary Hartstein said that the announcement that Schumacher is no longer a coma is “not news”, as his manager Sabine Kehm had said that he was showing signs of consciousness and awakening already in April.

“I cannot help but think that this is a highly cynical use of language, using the truth to convey an impression that is almost certainly false,” he wrote on his blog.

Monday’s statement said that Schumacher had left the hospital in Grenoble, but a spokesman for another hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, confirmed to Reuters news agency that the 45-year-old had been admitted there.

“This means he is just over 30 kilometres from his home,” reported Bild.

Gary Hartstein

Gary Hartstein

The hospital spokesman told Bild: “As with any patient, we want to respect medical confidentiality.”

The newspaper claimed that Schumacher’s periods of being awake have been getting longer and longer since the last official statement in early April.

“Michael Schumacher can hear voices and respond to touch,” said Bild. “His eyes are open. He can communicate with his environment, especially his wife Corinna and his children. Schumacher’s condition is now considered stable enough that he no longer needs the help of the specialists in Grenoble.”

Hartstein, however, said that he believes it is likely Schumacher is either only “minimally conscious” or in a “vegetative state”, with only “fluctuating signs of interaction with the environment”.

“This all leaves a very bad taste in my mouth,” he admitted. “And a huge space of sadness for Michael’s family, and for you, his fans.”

Hartstein added that the media statement is telling the world “what we already know, and [we are] pretty much told to not ever expect further updates”.

Flags in tribute of Michael Schumacher outside the Grenoble University Hospital Centre

Flags in tribute of Michael Schumacher outside the Grenoble University Hospital Centre

In the aftermath of the statement, media began to quote the opinions of medical experts, like Oxford university neurosurgery professor Dr Tipu Aziz, who told AP news agency that it is clear that the former Ferrari driver will suffer “long-term side effects”.

“With rehabilitation, they will try to train him to cope with the disabilities that he’s got to achieve as much life function as possible,” he said. “If he’s had a brain injury, he may have weakness in his limbs secondary to loss of brain function. He may have problems with speech and swallowing.”

Bild newspaper, claiming that Schumacher cannot yet talk, also reported that the rehabilitation “could take months if not years”.

“But there are hopeful signs,” British rehabilitation consultant Dr Ganesh Bavikatte is quoted by the Telegraph. “He is physically fit, he is relatively young and I assume that he did not have many pre-existing medical conditions.”

Others are less optimistic. German neurosurgeon Dr Andreas Pingel told the Focus publication that “Only between 10 and 30 per cent” of patients in Schumacher’s situation have “disabilities which are tolerable”.

University Hospital of Lausanne

University Hospital of Lausanne

And Germany’s society for neurology president Dr Andreas Ferbert warned that Schumacher could now be in a “waking coma”, resulting in a “permanent vegetative state”.

However, Bild newspaper had claimed Schumacher was communicating with his family.

“We do not know exactly what ‘communication’ means,” Finnish neurosurgeon Dr Mika Niemela told the MTV3 broadcaster. “Eyes open does not necessarily mean communication.

“I do not want to be a pessimist,” he added, “and I hope he does improve, but if the information that has been given is correct, then yes, the chance of recovery is fairly poor.

“If he has been five and a half months in ICU, the trauma was significant. Yes, he is probably in constant need of assistance.”

Sebastian Vettel with Michael Schumacher at the end of the seven times world champion's final F1 race

Sebastian Vettel with Michael Schumacher at the end of the seven time world champion’s final F1 race

The medical consultant for French television BFMTV, however, said Monday’s news was a “real step”, because earlier updates indicated that Schumacher remained at least partially in coma.

“Now it is possible to do a complete neurological evaluation and know exactly what has happened,” said Alain Ducardonnet.

“Based on this information, an appropriate rehabilitation will start.”

Another expert, the chief of neurology at Tampere University, said that Monday’s news makes the “Forecast of recovery slightly better” than before.

“But I am unable to comment on what his ability to function in the future will be,” Dr Heikki Numminen told Turun Sanomat newspaper.

Michael Schumacher known to be a keen and accomplished skier

Michael Schumacher known to be a keen and accomplished skier

Professor Heinzpeter Moecke, of Hamburg hospital, agrees that it is not publicly known what level of consciousness Schumacher is currently achieving.

At any rate, he said the Formula 1 legend will “probably have to relearn everything: swallowing, movement, walking, talking. It is a very long and tedious process with many small steps.”

Asked if Schumacher can recover, he answered: “No one can say at this time. In principle, nothing is impossible. But that he will go back to before is at least unlikely.”

Ex Formula 1 driver Olivier Panis told RTL television on Monday that his friend “will not be paralysed, that’s for sure. He will not be disabled in a wheelchair.

“But as for the brain, we do not know. We have to be patient,” said the Frenchman.

Michael Schumacher with Corinna

Michael Schumacher with wife Corinna in 2011

Indeed the footnote to Kehm’s positive statement was more sinister, with the contentious directive of  “not to be published” – we nevertheless see no need to keep the information below secret or out of the public domain:

“It is expressly stated that no further explanations to Michael’s status of health will be provided. No information in regard to his time at CHU Grenoble or the further phases of rehabilitation will be given.”

“We urgently ask everybody to respect this. The further phases of rehabilitation are strictly private and will happen under exclusion of the public domain. Any reports about this are in danger of being the object of legal dispute in court.
This statement will not be followed by further information.”

“There will be expressly no information or disclosure on when and to which institution Michael Schumacher has been relocated. In addition, no information about the type or scope of therapeutic measures will be given.”

“Any reports about this will be considered a severe intrusion into the rights of Michael Schumacher. There will be no media conference by Michael’s family or the CHU Grenoble.” (GP247-GMM)