Retired Formula One legend Michael Schumacher was fighting for his life in hospital on Tuesday, doctors said, after he sustained a severe head injury on Sunday while skiing off-piste in the French Alps resort of Meribel.
Doctors have warned it is touch-and-go for the German racing legend as they wait for the full extent of his injuries to become clear.
Chief anesthesiologist Jean-Francois Payen told reporters that the 44-year-old German was still in a medically induced coma and refused to predict the likely outcome for the seven-time Formula One champion.
"He is in critical condition and his condition can be described as life threatening," Payen told reporters.
Payen said he had been placed in an artificial coma to limit the impact of his head injuries on his brain.
The coma reduces the patient's temperature to around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) to reduce swelling. By being unconscious, the brain is also switched off to sounds, light and other triggers that cause the organ to use up oxygen as it processes the stimuli.
Doctors said it was too early to say whether Schumacher, who is due to turn 45 on January 3, would pull through.
"It usually takes 48 hours, or even longer, to be able to formulate an opinion" on injuries of this severity, said neurologist Jean-Luc Truelle.
Schumacher was wearing helmet
Schumacher had been skiing off-piste with his 14-year-old son in the upmarket Meribel resort when he fell and hit his head on a rock at around 11am on Sunday, prompting an emergency evacuation by helicopter.
He was wearing a helmet and was conscious after the accident, according to the Meribel ski resort director, Christophe Gernigon-Lecomte.
Neurosurgeon Stephan Chabardes, who operated on Schumacher upon his arrival in hospital in Grenoble, said the former racer had been in an agitated state and was not able to answer questions.
His condition "rapidly deteriorated" and he fell into a coma, he told reporters.
An emergency brain scan revealed internal bleeding and injuries including contusions and lesions, said Chabardes. He said they had operated a first time to treat the internal bleeding.
Payen said Schumacher had been partially protected by his helmet.
"If someone had had this type of accident without a helmet, they would definitely not be here," he said.
F1 drivers send messages of support
The area where Schumacher was skiing is part of a web of trails that slice down through a vast and, in parts, very steep snowfield. Although challenging, the snowfield is not extreme skiing: The runs are broad and neatly tended, and the ungroomed area in between, known as off-piste, is free of trees.
As news of the accident spread, Formula One drivers rushed to wish Schumacher a quick recovery.
Sebatian Vettel, who was once referred to as “Baby Schumi,” told German news agency dpa: “I am shocked and hope that he will get better as soon as possible.”
His former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa, who himself recovered from life-threatening head injuries sustained at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009, wrote on Instagram: “I am praying for you my brother!! I hope you have a quick recovery!! God bless you Michael.”
British former world champion Jenson Button said posted that his “thoughts are with Michael Schumacher at this tough time. ... Michael more than anyone has the strength to pull through this.”
Schumacher is the most successful Formula One driver of all time with a record 91 victories among his achievements. He won his titles with Benetton and Ferrari.
He left the sport last year after a three-year comeback with Mercedes following an earlier retirement from Ferrari at the end of 2006. The German lives in Switzerland with his wife and two children.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-29