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Dutch prince 'may never regain consciousness' after avalanche injury

Doctors say Johan Friso suffered serious brain damage during last week’s accident in Austria.

File photo of Dutch Prince Johan Friso with his wife Mabel.
File photo of Dutch Prince Johan Friso with his wife Mabel.
Image: John McConnico/AP/PAs Images

A DUTCH PRINCE hit by an avalanche while skiing in Austria last week has suffered massive brain damage and may never regain consciousness, his doctors said today.

Johan Friso, the second of Dutch Queen Beatrix’s three sons, was buried for 25 minutes before rescuers found him. It then took nearly 50 minutes to resuscitate the prince after he was pulled from the snow, time that may have caused permanent damage, said Dr Wolfgang Koller, head of trauma at the Innsbruck hospital where the prince is being treated.

“It is clear that the oxygen starvation has caused massive brain damage to the patient,” Koller said. “At the moment, it cannot be predicted if he will ever regain consciousness.”

The 41-year-old Friso, who is married and has two young daughters, will be moved later to a rehabilitation clinic for further treatment. But Koller cautioned it may take years before he awakens from his coma — if he ever does — and any recovery from such significant brain damage is a process of “months or even years.”

Friso was skiing off-trail in Lech, Austria, despite avalanche warnings, with a childhood friend from the alpine village. The Dutch royal family has been visiting Lech each winter for years.

The friend was carrying an avalanche “air bag” and escaped without serious injury. Friso was found with the help of a signaling device he was carrying and was flown by helicopter to the Innsbruck Clinic.

But “50 minutes of resuscitation is extremely long. You could say too long,” Koller said.

The doctor said due to protocols for minimising brain damage, it had only been possible to conduct an MRI scan of Friso’s brain yesterday.

“We had hoped that the slight cooling of the patient would protect his brain from too serious damage. Unfortunately this hope was not fulfilled,” he said.

Unconscious

Friso is in a coma, a state of unconsciousness in which a person cannot be awakened by sound or touch. There are different levels of unconsciousness and unresponsiveness depending on how much brain function there is. Doctors did not give further details.

Members of his family, including his mother and Friso’s older brother Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, have traveled to the hospital in a somber vigil. They appealed Friday for the media to respect their privacy. In a statement, the family said they “need space to learn how to deal with Prince Friso’s health situation and to adjust their lives to it.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the queen Friday morning to tell her the “country sympathises deeply with the royal family in this time of concern and grief.”

The queen has said the family has been moved by the “countless” messages of condolence and encouragement they have received.

Friso, who worked for years as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs, had previously been a relatively low-profile member of the highly popular Dutch royal family.

Since his 2004 marriage, Friso has served on various supervisory boards, worked for charitable organisations and helped found a low-cost airline. In 2011 he left a position as managing director at investment firm Wolfensohn & Company to became the chief financial officer of Urenco, the European uranium enrichment consortium.

The couple lives in London with their two daughters, Luana, 6, and 5-year-old Zaria.

Read: Dutch prince buried in Austrian avalanche >

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Associated Press

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