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Schumacher – Turning a coma corner

Michael Schumacher is one of those blokes you can’t help but admire.  This guy has it all.  Immense skill, unrivaled competitive edge, extreme sporting prowess, rugged good looks, and a clear gift with the ladies.  When we were told he was severly injured skiing there was universal sorrow and support for his closest friends and family.  Even from Mercedes drivers.

What do we know?

To be honest, we don’t know much.

All credit and respect to the family – they have kept Michael’s condition a secret.  And you know what?  I think thats the best thing they could have done.

It’s none of our business.

Plus, for the many who idolise the great man, they don’t need know the worst – give them as much hope and aspiration as possible.

Media reports have confirmed that he has been in a coma, having only just awoken in the last week or so.

What is a coma? It’s a deep sleep where the brain is still functioning, but only with what it needs to do to survive.  The body is completely unresponsive to stimuli such as sound, touch, or pain; and the person is completely unrousable: they dont wake up for any reason.

Causes. There are many causes of coma, but unfortunately the overwhelming cause is trauma.

Why has he been in that coma for so long?”

Probably the most common question I get from concerned patients! Along with “Has it been purely from the injury or ‘induced’?”

Following injury to the brain a coma can be induced or prolonged by doctors. With drugs and all those machines that go ‘ping!’ doctors can keep you in a deep coma, all in the name of managing the pressure in the brain precisely.  By doing so they reduce secondary injury to the brain, minimising ultimate disability.

Without getting a conference call from his Neurosurgeon to confirm exactly what went on, I can only guess what has been happening over the last six months.

What I can hypothesis on is that in Australia you dont just wake up one day in ICU and get transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Switzerland.  I imagine that he was actually lifted from his coma some time ago, has stabilised with a much lower need for nursing care, and is now ready to enter the next stage of recovery.

How bad can it be?

Prognosis from coma depends on a number of factors: the extent of the injury, the quality and speed of medical care, other health factors the person suffers, their age, and lastly simple luck.

It’s impossible to predict what level of disability Michael may have.  He truly could end up with all his wit, charm, skill, and athelticism.  He could also end up significantly disabled requiring constant nursing support for all his facualties.

What we can do know is that modern medicine, combined with the incredible courage and willpower we all know Michael Schumacher has, will give him the greatest chance possible.

“What’s likely though Dr Sam?”

Surely the fact he has been in a coma for such a long time is bad?

Again, we just don’t know.

Different doctors and hospitals have different protocols – some may induce a coma for a much longer period of time than others for the same patient, so the length of his coma may not reflect the severity of his injury.

I think realistically he is likley to have some degree of disability – whether it be speech, thinking, moving, or thought.

But has he recovered from a seemingly impossible injury because of who he is?

He’s a champion, an elite athlete, with incredible willpower – how much has that played a role in his recovery?  I truly believe a lot.

Dr Sam crossed live into The Project on Channel Ten to comment on this sensitive topic. (16JUN14)