Michael Schumacher was reported to be showing initial signs of regaining consciousness after spending more than 13 weeks in an artificially induced coma following a serious skiing accident.
The seven-times Formula One world champion suffered grave head injuries after striking a rock while skiing near the French resort of Meribel in late December.
He is being treated at Grenoble University Hospital, where his family, including his wife Corinna, 45, is maintaining a bedside vigil.
On Friday, Schumacher’s manager, Sabine Kehm, offered the first glimmer of hope in months for the comatose driver: “Michael is making progress. He is showing moments of consciousness and awakening. We are at his side in his long and difficult struggle and we remain confident,” she said.
Ms Kehm did not elaborate on the signs of consciousness Schumacher had exhibited. She earlier denied reports that the driver had completed a “wake-up” process whereby doctors reduce the amount of medication in an attempt to gradually rouse a comatose patient from unconsciousness.
Doctors initiated the process in late January. Ms Kehm said Schumacher was still in the “wake-up” phase and had not yet emerged from it. She said she did not wish to go into further detail about the driver’s medical condition to safeguard the Schumacher family’s privacy and allow doctors to continue their treatment in peace.
News about Schumacher’s progress has been limited. The driver’s family, his team and doctors imposed strict controls on the supply of information earlier this year after the Grenoble hospital where he is being treated was laid under a virtual media siege.
However, reports last month suggested that his prognosis was bleak and that his chances of fully recovering from his coma were minimal. Schumacher is reported to have lost 25 per cent of his body weight since doctors placed him in a coma.
Germany’s mass circulation Bild newspaper and Italy’s La Gazetto dello Sport have claimed that 45-year-old Schumacher’s weight had dropped from over 12 stone to just under eight-and-a-half stone.
“While weight loss in coma patients is normal,” Professor Dr Kurt Diehm, a coma expert at Germany’s Karlsbad teaching hospital, told Bild. “One must assume that his muscles have degraded considerably because of his immobility.”
Doctors were also said to have told the Schumacher family that the driver’s chances of making a full recovery after being in an artificial coma for over 10 weeks were minimal. Coma specialists pointed out that the average length of an artificial coma is three weeks.
Germany’s Focus magazine has reported that complications had obliged doctors to halt Schumacher’s wake-up process and that the driver had been put back into a coma. But Schumacher’s management team denied the report.
A fortnight ago, Dr Gary Hartstein, a former senior Formula One physician, was more pessimistic. He wrote in his online blog that Schumacher’s prognosis was “terribly dismal”, adding: “As time goes on it becomes less and less likely that Michael will emerge to any significant extent.”
Dr Hartstein, who was motor racing’s leading doctor from 2005 until 2012, also accused the medical teams responsible for Schumacher’s initial treatment of making “serious lapses of judgement” because, he claimed, they had first taken the injured driver to the wrong hospital.