Michael Schumacher may recover within three years, the French doctor who has been treating the Formula One driver said yesterday.
In his first public comments since the accident, Dr Jean-Francois Payen confirmed that Schumacher was out of a coma and had made “some progress“, but said the driver faced a long road to recovery.
“I have seen some progress but I would say give him time. It’s like other patients, we are in a timescale that ranges from one year to three years, so it takes patience,” Dr Payen said.
Dr Payen, the head of Anaesthesiology at Grenoble University Hospital where Schumacher was taken after his accident in December, spoke about his patient in two interviews, with Le Parisien newspaper and RTL radio.
“Life after a brain injury is punctuated with stages,” he said. “It must progress, we hope, but we must give him time.”
Although Schumacher was moved from Grenoble to Lausanne in June, and has since returned to his family home in Switzerland to recuperate, Dr Payen remains in close touch with the family and has visited Schumacher at his home.
“I kept seeing him, first at the University Hospital of Lausanne, and now at home. It’s to see how he progresses and tell his wife and children what changes I observed,” Dr Payen said. “He’s in a very favourable condition. This plays a big role. The family environment is always best for the patient. His wife is surrounded by excellent advice and has implemented everything required to move forward.”
Schumacher was in a “critical condition” when he was first brought to hospital, Dr Payen said. He is still alive today “because there were decisions that were taken in a timely manner“.
The anaesthesiologist reserved special praise for Schumacher’s wife, Corinna. She has “in every respect an extraordinary willpower“, he said.
“Immediately she understood the seriousness of the situation and the long journey that lay before them. She sees things very clearly and will do anything and give everything to improve the condition of her husband.”
Dr Payen also spoke for the first time about the media storm in which he was engulfed when he took on his celebrity patient. “Nobody willingly undergoes such a flood of media [attention],” he told Le Parisien. “We quickly got organised by creating a sort of ‘medical bubble’ to protect us from the outside world, from the media pressure, in order to work properly.”
At one point a journalist reportedly disguised himself as a priest to gain access to Schumacher’s bedside, and some of his medical records were later stolen. Dr Payen told how he and his colleagues had to give up their mobile phones, and could only go to and from work via an enclosed car park.
Despite his patient’s celebrity status and great wealth, Dr Payen insisted that he was not given any preferential treatment in hospital, other than the extra security precautions. “Michael Schumacher was treated like any other patient,” he said. “He was with other patients in the intensive care unit. As there is no VIP room.”
Schumacher suffered a traumatic brain injury while skiing with his 14-year-old son Mick in the French Alpine resort of Meribel last December when he fell and hit his head on a rock. Doctors have said that he would probably have died if he had not been wearing a ski helmet.
Earlier this month the Formula One commentator Jean-Louis Moncet said Mick had told him his father was making a slow recovery.
“I saw his son and he told me that Schumi is waking up very slowly, very slowly,” he said.
–The Daily Telegraph/Justin Huggler