Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in the history of Formula One motor racing, with seven world drivers' championships, is "fighting for his life" with brain injuries suffered Sunday when he hit his head on a rock in a skiing accident in the French Alps, his doctors said Monday.
They said it was too early to know if Schumacher, a 44-year-old German, would survive or what the extent of his brain injuries might be. They said that his family, including his wife, Corinna, and his teenage son and daughter, were at his bedside.
"Unfortunately, he had some lesions to his brain when he came in, he had some diffuse injuries to his brain, but we can't really say what the outcome will be," Jean-Francois Payen, an anesthesiologist who is leading Schumacher's medical team at the Grenoble University Hospital Center, said at a news conference.
"He's in a critical situation, and we can say he's fighting for his life," Payen said. "We judge him to be in a very serious condition."
He added, "We are working continuously, hour by hour, but it's too early to say what's going to happen and to give a prognosis."
No further medical updates were issued in Grenoble, and experts said the outcome of treatments for injuries like Schumacher's was hard to predict. They said the treatments would focus on lowering the pressure inside his skull as his brain swelled from the bleeding associated with the lesions.
Schumacher, whose F1 career spanned 21 years before his retirement in 2012, was taken by helicopter Sunday off the mountainside at Meribel, a resort in southeastern France, near the Italian border.
Resort officials said Schumacher had been skiing with his 14-year-old son Mick in an off-trail area between two of the resort's main ski runs - the Biche and the Mauduit - when he fell and struck his head on a rock. The officials described the site of his accident as being part of a wide, treeless snowfield, known for its deep snow and for the challenges it presents even for experienced skiers, including the threat of avalanches.
Schumacher, who has a chalet nearby, has a reputation as an accomplished skier, and resort officials said he was wearing a helmet when he fell. His medical team told the news conference that the severity of his impact with the rock, causing the lesions on the right side of his brain, was such that he would have died had he not been wearing a helmet.
"Without a helmet, he wouldn't be here now," Payen said.
Doctors and resort officials emphasized the swiftness of the medical assistance Schumacher received after his fall. They said he was reached rapidly on the mountainside by an emergency team that included paramedics, then airlifted to a small hospital in the nearby town of Moutiers. After a rapid assessment there, they said, he was taken, again by helicopter, to the larger medical center at Grenoble, where he arrived barely 90 minutes after his fall on the mountainside.
Payen said Schumacher was conscious but in "an agitated condition" when he reached the Grenoble hospital.
"We had to operate urgently to relieve the pressure on his brain," he said.
After the operation, Payen said, Schumacher was kept in a medically induced coma, a common treatment in cases of severe head injury. Payen described it as intended to prevent further brain damage through the "animation" of the brain that might occur if Schumacher were conscious.
As the world of motor racing absorbed the news of the accident, there was a widespread sense of the irony involved in Schumacher, dominant for so long in grand prix racing, a sport synonymous with risk, suffering such severe injuries in retirement, while engaging in a favorite family pastime.
As a driver, Schumacher was known for his win-at-all-costs style and a history of on- and off-track confrontations with other drivers.
The worst injury he suffered in the sport was a broken leg, the result of his Ferrari's brakes locking and pitching him into a trackside tire barrier during the British Grand Prix in 1999. He emerged unscathed from several other high-speed crashes, a beneficiary of the vastly improved safety measures in Formula One, many of them adopted after an accident at the Imola track in Italy in May 1994 killed Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna.
No deaths have occurred in Formula One since.
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