Prof Klepetko: Niki will recover to be the man we know


Niki Lauda the man who in 1976 was given the last rites by a priest after his horrific fiery accident during the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring, was last week given a mere seven days to live after he suffered a lung infection that required an emergency lung transplant that nearly robbed the great man from us.

His condition stunned the Formula 1 world who were deliberately kept in the dark with regards to his condition until it finally broke that the living legend was once again knocking on death’s door. But he has defied fate to fight as could only be expected from a man of his courage and bravery.

We can report now that Niki has woken from an induced coma at the AKH Wien hospital, although incredibly week and recovering from a major operation he is now breathing freely unaided by machines – the donor lung has been well received by Niki’s body.

The catalogue of events that resulted in his condition has now also been established and they are absolutely unbelievable:

Early July:

  • Niki makes a short visit to Ibiza with his family after the Austrian Grand Prix. He has a cold and was coughing badly.
  • Nevertheless, he attends the British Grand Prix and afterwards returned to recover in Ibiza.
  • In the subsequent days he contracted summer flu, the cough becoming more intense and as a result, he could barely breathe.
  • In desperation, he flies his private jet to Vienna with his son Mattias at his side

20 July:

  • The Mercedes team expects Niki to attend the German Grand Prix but he is absent.
  • Niki checked in Friday afternoon at the AKH hospital and his doctor immediately sounds the alarm.
  • He is checked into the intensive care unit (ICU) with the diagnosis: severe pneumonia exacerbated by a lung infection he carried for 20 days.
  • Mercedes team apologizes for his absence at the German Grand Prix citing Lauda a “strong coughing” but they are also in the dark with regards to what is really going on.
  • The truth is he is already in ICU where doctors tried to stablise his condition with medication.
  • But there are problems: Niki as a patient is a “special case” because he already had two kidney transplants and takes strong immune medications as result of his accident four decades ago.
  • Another problem was Niki’s secret that he had a mild heart attack in April at the height of the stress with Laudamotion.

23 to 27 July:

  • Niki manages to keep his hospital stay secret. No one knows about it – not even his Mercedes partner Toto Wolff.
  • Only the closest associates of Laudamotion know that Niki is in hospital because the airline union demand a collective agreement by 31 July and threatens strike action during the first week of August.
  • Crisis conferences are held over the phone and result in Niki selling his share of Laudamotion.
  • Niki’s lungs begin to fail affecting his heart and his life was now at risk.
  • He was connected to a “heart-lung machine” that pumped oxygen into his bloodstream and into his heart.
  • He could still speak laboriously, but struggled to breathe.
  • His son and wife Birgit were at his side around the clock.

28 to 29 July:

  • The situation was getting more and more grave as Lauda’s lungs fail – only a heart and lung pump keep him alive.
  • Mercedes and the Formula 1 world were still in the dark, but worried.

31 July:

  • Public receive information from Niki’s closest circle of friends that he was in ICU at AKH and his condition was described as “serious to dramatic”.
  • Niki hovered on life support, but he still conducts telephone conferences from the bedside.
  • Ryanair boss O’Leary arrived in Vienna to visit Niki, but was not allowed to and instead phones Niki with regards to selling his shares.
  • Doctors decide that only a lung transplant can save the life of our F1 legend.
  • “Eurotransplant” requires a donor lung with the highest level of urgency as at that point Niki had three to seven days to live
  • He is kept alive only by the “pump” and he was longer responsive, thus the airline sale stalls.
  • A suitable lung is found in Hamburg and transported to Vienna on Thursday night by a special jet and a police escort to AKH
  • During the night, the lungs were prepared for Lauda and his organism on a special ex-vivo machine.

2 August:

  • A ten-person medical team under the leadership of the world’s leading lung specialist Professor Walter Klepetko and his colleague Konrad Hötzenecker perform the extremely complicated six-hour operation.
  • The operation lasted a full six hours but the transplant is successful.
  • For the Klepetko team, this was a routine operation – they perform a lung transplant every third day. That was already the 65th version of the operation they had completed this year.
  • Lauda remains in an artificial coma, for the time being, countless instruments are used to monitor the heart, circulatory system, kidneys and blood.
  • The team around Walter Klepetko performed a miracle – Niki Lauda lives!

3 August:

  • After further monitoring and it was announced that the transplant worked perfectly.
  • The kidney worked, the heart also, no bleeding, the body adopted the new lung (for the time being) and crucially there were no relapses.
  • Doctors began the process of waking Niki from a coma
  • They stopped the artificial respiration and the patient breathed again independently with his new lung.
  • For the doctors, there was a certainty: everything had gone as expected without complications thus far.

Now, the recovery period will force Niki to stay at the AKH for at least four weeks recovery while being monitored by specialists, followed by two weeks of intensive therapy to help him adjust.

At the earliest in October, he can return to the Formula 1 paddock and according to Prof. Klepetko, “He will recover to be the man we know again. He will be able to fly, work and exercise again.”

“Important is the mental attitude of the patient, he must really be a fighter, really want,” said the head of the Clinical Department of Thoracic Surgery. “It will not be so easy to find a bigger fighter than Niki Lauda.

AKH released the following report on Monday: The AKH Vienna and the MedUni Vienna are pleased about the very satisfactory course after the lung transplantation on 2.8. to inform.”

“Already 24 hours after the operation, Niki Lauda was fully conscious that he could be extubated and breathe independently.”

“Since then there has been a continuous improvement, all organs are working well. The patient will continue to be cared for until full recovery at the AKH Vienna,” concluded the report.

From us and our readers, all we can say is Forza Niki, you Lionheart!

Additional Sources: oe24 website