LONDON >> The family of Michael Schumacher said on Monday that the former Formula One champion had left the hospital in the French city of Grenoble, where he was admitted with brain injuries nearly six months ago, to “continue his long phase of rehabilitation,” and that he was “no longer in a coma.”
In a statement, the family said that further rehabilitation for Schumacher “will take place away from the public eye,” but gave no details of where that would be. The statement was similarly opaque on the details of Schumacher’s medical condition, in keeping with the terse nature of almost all of the family’s statements since Schumacher’s skiing accident on Dec. 29, when he fell and struck his head on a rock as he traversed an ungroomed snowfield at the French Alpine resort of M?ribel.
A former Ferrari official in close contact with the Schumacher family told friends this month that he had been told that Corinna Schumacher, the former champion’s wife and the mother of their two teenage children, had decided with the agreement of the medical team at Grenoble’s University Hospital Center that Schumacher would be moved to a clinic near the family’s luxurious lakeside estate at Gland, a Swiss city on the north shore of Lake Geneva.
At an earlier stage of Schumacher’s treatment, a German newspaper report, citing members of the Schumacher family, said that a special clinic would be built in the grounds of the sprawling family estate where the Schumachers settled five years ago. The move came after the end of the driving career with Ferrari that brought the German driver five of his seven world driver’s championships and most of his 91 Grand Prix victories.
Schumacher’s wealth, built during 19 seasons at the pinnacle of single-seat motor racing, has been estimated at about $800 million, making him one of the world’s richest sports figures. Last autumn, he said that he would probably leave Switzerland, where he has made his home for 20 years, if the Swiss authorities acted on suggestions to abolish a rule granting tax breaks to resident foreigners for earnings made outside Switzerland.
The family statement on Monday left open the possibility that Schumacher, 45, might have been moved to a private clinic somewhere close to the Gland estate, but not actually on the Schumacher property.
Corinna Schumacher was said to have decided on the move from Grenoble after months of shuttling by car and helicopter between the Gland estate, which has a helicopter pad, and the Grenoble hospital, a distance of more than 100 miles by road.
In a bid to discourage media outlets from attempting to track the driver’s whereabouts, the statement asked that the news media continue to respect the family’s privacy, which it first requested in January, when reporters and camera crews complied with the family’s request that they end their vigil outside the Grenoble hospital.
“For the future, we ask for understanding that his further rehabilitation will take place away from the public eye,” it said.
Sabine Kehm, Schumacher’s longtime manager, added that the family wanted to thank people who had sent thousands of messages of support for the injured river. “We are sure it helped him,” she said.
On behalf of the family, she also praised the “excellent job” of the medical team in Grenoble, where Schumacher spent months in the neuropathological intensive care unit.
A report published on Monday on the website of Bild, the German tabloid newspaper, said that Schumacher was now able to hear voices and to respond to touches. “He can communicate with his wife Corinna, and his children,” Gina-Marie, 16, and Mick, 14, the paper said.
The family statements have previously said that Schumacher was experiencing “conscious moments” as the Grenoble medical team reduced the sedatives that had put him into a medically-induced coma after he arrived at the hospital, and that there were other, unspecified “encouraging signs” that his condition was improving.
But weeks have gone by between the family bulletins, most of them carefully composed to disclose almost nothing about his condition beyond the bleak diagnosis offered by his doctors in the early days after the accident. They said then that they had conducted two operations on Schumacher’s brain to relieve blood clots, but that scans had shown numerous other clots deep within his brain that were inoperable.
Experts in traumatic brain injury who have not been involved in the former driver’s treatment have said that the absence of more detailed information about his condition was discouraging, since the normal pattern in cases attracting widespread public interest would be disclose any signs that suggested that a significant recovery was underway.
Most of these experts have said that while there are cases of full recovery after months or years in a coma, the more common pattern is for the patient to suffer long-term physical or mental impairment that can be severe.