Sports fans across the world were shocked just before New Year with the news that Michael Schumacher was in a coma after a serious skiing accident.
Schumacher, who turned 45 while in hospital in Grenoble, hit a rock while skiing off piste, and landed head-first on a boulder.
He has been fighting for life ever since, with doctors reporting his condition as "critical, but stable".
The media have ceased reporting on a daily basis from the hospital following a plea by Schumacher's wife - but fans around the world continue to fear for the wellbeing of the seven-times F1 champion.
And according to one of Britain's top neurosurgeons, those fears are justified - since the future that awaits Schumacher if and when he awakes from his coma will be very different from anything that he could have imagined.
Richard Greenwood, a consultant neurologist at London's Homerton Hospital and at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, says that Schumacher will be a very different man when he regains consciousness - and that he is likely to be a regular Joe Bloggs rather than a man with a superstar mentality.
"If Schumacher survives he will not be Schumacher. He will be Bloggs. And his rehabilitation will only be effective if he comes to terms with being Bloggs - and fulfils what Bloggs can do," Greenwood told a group of doctors and reporters as he gave the results of a major new study into the long-term effects of brain trauma.
"That's a very, very difficult process to take people through - and many people don't achieve it."
The study, which has been published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Psychiatry Journal - looked at nearly a quarter of a million survivors of traumatic brain injury going back over 40 years, and it offers a chilling and disturbing long-term prognosis.
Survivors of brain injuries are three times more likely to die prematurely than the general population, according to the findings, with doctors speculating that damage to the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making and risk-taking is to blame.
Experts in Germany speaking this week raised fears of an even more worrying scenario: that Schumacher may never again recover consciousness.
Germany's Bild newspaper and Focus magazine reported that many doctors now believe Schumacher's injuries may have been worse than initially hoped, and that the danger of a brain haemorrhage remains high
"There may have been complications," neurosurgeon Andreas Zieger of the University of Oldenburg told Focus.
"We should not speculate here. Ultimately, we are talking about life and death. A coma can in theory be maintained for a lifetime. It won’t hurt the human brain.
"Brain injuries are among the most complicated that can happen to the human body.
"Predictions about how long a person might be in a coma, or potential complications, are seldom reliable."
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