Italy

Alex Zanardi
AP

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

Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.

Alex Zanardi airlifted to hospital after accident

Alex Zanardi
AP
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) — Alex Zanardi, the Italian race car champion who transitioned into a gold medalist Paralympian after losing both of his legs, was seriously injured in a handbike race on Friday.

Zanardi was transported by helicopter to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following a crash near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told The Associated Press.

A medical bulletin from 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.

“His condition remains very serious,” the hospital said.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “You’ve never given up and with your extraordinary strength within you’ve overcome a thousand troubles. Forza Alex Zanardi. Don’t give up. All of Italy is with you.”

A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a “heavy vehicle.”

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

“It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road,” national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, told La Repubblica Florence. “Alex veered slightly into the oncoming lane just when a truck came. (The truck) tried to swerve but couldn’t avoid the crash.”

Prosecutors in Siena opened a criminal investigation into the incident and into the race’s organization.

Repubblica said Zanardi remained conscious until medical personnel arrived, and he was breathing by himself.

“Twenty minutes passed from the time of the accident to when the medical personnel arrived. It took some time to load him (into the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident he was talking,” Valentini added in another interview with local media.

Valentini said he was not an eyewitness to the accident but arrived at the scene immediately afterward.

“It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino,” Valentini said. “The truck didn’t make a mistake. Alex made the mistake.”

The coach added that Zanardi’s helmet came off during the crash.

Racing great Mario Andretti tweeted, “I am so anxious and frightened about Alex Zanardi that I’m holding my breath. I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I’m doing and pray pray (for) this wonderful man.”

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. CART raced only because the series was already in Germany at the time of the attacks and could not return to the U.S.

During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics — he jokes he made himself taller — 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.

His spirit, will, and determination gave the beloved Italian a larger than life persona. When he returned to the U.S. in 2019 to compete for BMW at the Rolex 24 of Daytona without his prosthetics, he was the most revered driver in a field that included F1 champion Fernando Alonso.

Drivers from around the world sought out Zanardi for photographs and were transfixed as he told elaborate, often embellished, tales of his adventures in the nearly two decades since many had seen him.

Noted for his infectious smile and fanciful storytelling, Zanardi proved time and again to be among the most determined people his peers have ever known.

“He has seven lives,” Valentini said. “Like cats.”