Murto: Schumacher report is misleading

Former Formula One champion Michael Schumacher has been a subject of concern in the motorsports world since he suffered major head injuries in a skiing accident in December.

Information regarding Schumacher’s condition has been slow in coming, closely guarded and carefully worded. This week the media went wild over a press release that stated Schumacher was no longer in a coma and headed to a rehab facility.

Media reports generally make it sound as if Schumacher is undergoing a miraculous recovery. Hopeful reports from otherwise credible sources eager to report good news call the latest official press release “amazing” and “wonderful.” But is it really?

According to an article posted online by Dr. Gary Hartstein, a former FIA doctor on the F1 circuit, the “new” information about Schumacher’s condition is not new at all.

In the beginning of April, official news on Schumacher stated that he had “moments of awakening and consciousness,” which Hartstein reports was “clinically perfect” language to indicate that Schumacher was no longer in a coma. As Hartstein reported, “The moment [Schumacher’s management] announced that Michael had moments of eye opening, we knew he was no longer in a coma.”

Hartstein observes that to laymen the terms “awake” and “conscious” mean the same thing, but they are different for those clinically trained. Technically, Hartstein states, Schumacher’s PR stated in clinical terms as far back as April that he was in a “minimally conscious” state. That means he was not in a coma; this week’s release that he is no longer in a coma is nothing new.

Hartstein also reports that the likelihood of Schumacher going directly from intensive care to rehab without transitioning through regular wards within the hospital is slight. Hartstein observes that many rehab facilities are equipped to handle “ventilated patients,” and that there has never been news forthcoming that Schumacher can breathe on his own. People aren’t hospitalized forever; it makes sense he would eventually be moved.

It is Hartstein’s assessment of the latest Schumacher press release that it is “cynical use of language, using the truth to convey an impression that is almost certainly false.” The media jumped all over the latest statements – Schumacher’s out of his coma and headed to rehab – with visions of an alert Michael Schumacher on his way to a rehab center where he’ll recover much of what he lost.

Unfortunately, we were never told that Schumacher was communicating effectively with people. We haven’t been told that he’s looking forward to learning to walk again. We haven’t been told that he slurs his speech and hopes to speak clearly in the future.

But we have been told the truth, according to Hartstein, even if it was carefully worded – intentionally or not — in such a way as to mislead the public and the media: Michael Schumacher is in a minimally conscious state, has been in that state since April at least, and is now being transferred out of the hospital.

The 45-year-old seven-time F1 champion was placed in an induced coma after the skiing accident to give his brain a chance to heal, and began the process of sedation reduction at the end of January. With 91 Grand Prix wins and 68 poles, Schumacher, who retired at the end of the 2012 season, is the most successful racer in F1 history.

Head injuries are serious, and the longer an injury remains without significant recovery, the less the chance for recovery. We really don’t know anything except what we’ve been told by Schumacher’s management, which has been very tight-lipped ever since the skiing accident occurred in December.

All of us can understand Schumacher’s family’s desire for privacy. At the same time, the most successful F1 racer of all time is a public figure, and the entire motorsports community seeks information on his condition. On the surface, the latest release gives hope for a recovery; Schumacher is out of a coma and headed to rehab.

It’s natural to keep praying for Schumacher’s recovery, and for his family, friends and fans. Don’t, however, be misled by the latest “news”; Michael Schumacher continues to suffer from a very serious head injury, and there is no report that indicates he has progressed from a minimally conscious state.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.