Alex Zanardi

Alex Zanardi
AP

Alex Zanardi, Paralympic champ, transferred to rehab center after handbike crash

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SIENA, Italy — Alex Zanardi, the Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist, was transferred to a neurological rehabilitation center Tuesday, a month after getting seriously injured in a handbike crash.

The Siena hospital that had been treating Zanardi since the June 19 crash announced that the athlete had been released but, in accordance with Zanardi’s family, did not say where he was taken.

Zanardi underwent three delicate surgeries at the Siena hospital to stabilize him and reconstruct his severely damaged face since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a relay event.

“His clinical condition and vital signs have shown he’s on the road toward stability, which allowed for the reduction and suspension of the sedative, and therefore the possibility to be transferred to a facility where he can receive the necessary neuro-rehabilitation,” said Valtere Giovannini, director of the Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital.

“(Zanardi) has shown extraordinary strength, which is a precious gift that he’ll need on the new challenge beginning today,” Giovannini added.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, had been on a ventilator in a medically induced coma since the crash.

The hospital would not say if Zanardi was awake or not.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

Alex Zanardi
AP
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SIENA, Italy — Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi underwent a five-hour surgery Monday to reconstruct his face following a crash on his handbike last month.

It was the third major operation that Zanardi has had since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19 during a relay event.

Dr. Paolo Gennaro of Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena said the operation required three-dimensional digital and computerized technology that was “made to measure” for Zanardi.

“The complexity of the case was fairly unique, although this is a type of fracture that we deal with routinely,” Gennaro said in a hospital statement.

After the surgery, Zanardi was returned to the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

“His condition remains stable in terms of his cardio-respiratory status and grave in terms of his neurological status,” the hospital medical bulletin read.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, has been on a ventilator since the crash.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Alex Zanardi in medically induced coma after crashing handbike into truck

Alex Zanardi
AP
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ROME — Italian race car champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi was in a medically induced coma and remained in serious condition a day after crashing his handbike into a truck and smashing his face.

Zanardi — who lost both of his legs in a race-car crash nearly 20 years ago — was hooked up to a ventilator and had “stable” blood flow while his neurological status “remains serious,” the Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena said Saturday in a medical bulletin.

“The condition of Alex Zanardi is serious but stable,” Dr. Giuseppe Olivieri said in a briefing outside the hospital. “He arrived here with major facial cranial trauma, a smashed face, and a deeply fractured frontal bone (forehead).”

“The numbers are good, although it remains a very serious situation.”

Zanardi was transported by helicopter to the hospital after crashing near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a relay race Friday.

Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi’s handbike lying on its side at the edge of the road and a large truck pulling a semitrailer parked ahead.

Late Friday, the hospital said Zanardi underwent “a delicate neurosurgery operation” due to “severe cranial trauma.”

The surgery lasted about three hours, after which Zanardi was moved to the intensive care unit.

“We won’t see what his neurological state is until he wakes up — if he wakes up. Serious condition means it’s a situation when someone could die. Improvement takes time in these cases. Turns for the worse can be sudden,” said Olivieri, who operated on Zanardi. “The operation went according to the plan. It’s the initial situation that was very serious.”

“The next step is to try and stabilize him over the next week or 10 days. Then if things go well, he could eventually be woken up and re-evaluated.”

Zanardi’s wife, Daniela, and his son, Niccolò, were at his bedside.

“As I told his wife, he’s a patient who is worth being treated,” Olivieri said, referring to his chances for improvement. “As far as a prognosis of how he’ll be tomorrow, in a week or in 15 days, I don’t know. But I’m convinced that he should be treated.”

The 53-year-old Zanardi won two championships in CART in the United States before a brief move to Formula One. He returned to America and was racing in Germany in a CART event in 2001 when both of his legs were severed in a horrific accident the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and developed into one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Prosecutors in Siena have opened a criminal investigation into the accident and the race’s organization — and specifically whether enough safety precautions were taken.

About 10 disabled riders were escorted by one police vehicle, local reports said.

Witnesses have said that the accident occurred on a downhill section just before a curve in the road. Zanardi apparently lost control and veered into the oncoming lane. The truck apparently tried to swerve out of the way but couldn’t avoid the crash.

The truck driver, who was placed under investigation, tested negative for alcohol and drugs.

“The truck didn’t make a mistake. Alex made the mistake,” said national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race.

The race was part of a two-week relay event throughout Italy to promote the country’s rebirth after the coronavirus pandemic. It was created by an association led by Zanardi with an aim of bringing more Italians to the Paralympics.