Hakkinen flies home

AFTER three weeks at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Mika Hakkinen has flown back to Europe on a specially fitted-out medical jet, accompanied by two doctors, his manager Didier Coton and his girlfriend Erja Honkanen.

The doctors in Adelaide are now beginning to reveal just how lucky Hakkinen was and just how serious the crash was. The impact fractured the base of Hakkinen's skull and cut off his breathing.

Mika was fortunate that one of the first doctors to reach him was Dr. Stephen Lewis, a surgeon at the Royal Adelaide, a specialist in head injuries who only has recently pioneered a prize-winning ultrasound technique, which allows oxygen to flow to the brain after a serious head injury and lessens the dangers of the suffering permanent damage because of oxygen starvation.

Dr. Lewis told the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper that Hakkinen was "a very lucky guy" that doctors had been able to use the new techniques in ideal conditions.

"Not many people can do what he did to their head and get away with it," said Lewis, who added that another patient admitted to the hospital soon after Hakkinen would probably suffer permanent brain damage because he was not taken to the hospital quickly enough.

These revelations - although remarkable - fly in the face of earlier statements issued by McLaren and the circuit medical officers which gave the impression that all was well and that Hakkinen had not suffered any major fractures in the crash. One can only presume that this misleading behavior was thought necessary at the time because of the extremely delicate political situation at McLaren.

Mika - who has been racing since he started in karts at the age of six - says he is still committed to the sport but doesn't yet know if he will race next season. He will undergo further treatment in Europe, but has been warned by doctors to be careful to avoid any bangs on the head. He will also need surgery on an ear because of a hearing problem caused by the crash. It will be at least another six weeks before the Finn will know whether he can race or not in the future.

Mika, however, is aware that he has already been very fortunate.

"I'm very lucky to be in the situation I'm in," he said. "At least I can walk and do things normally. The doctors say I will make a full recovery."

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