Alex Zanardi undergoes neurosurgical surgery for severe head trauma after hand bike accident

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ROME – Alex Zanardi, the Italian race car champion who became a Paralympian gold medalist after losing his two legs, was seriously injured in a hand bike race on Friday.Zanardi was transported by helicopter to the Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following an accident near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told the Associated Press .

A medical report from the hospital said that Zanardi had “undergone neurosurgery” due to “serious head injuries”.

The operation lasted approximately three hours, after which Zanardi was transferred to the intensive care unit.

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

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “You have never given up and with your extraordinary strength you have overcome a thousand problems. Forza Alex Zanardi. Do not abandon. All of Italy is with you. “

A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a “heavy vehicle”.Local television at the scene of the accident showed what appeared to be Zanardi’s side-lying hand bike missing two of its three wheels. A large truck pulling a semi-trailer appeared to be parked on the road.

“It happened right downhill right before a slight curve on the road,” said national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, at La Repubblica Florence. “Alex slightly deviated in the oncoming lane just when a truck arrived. (The truck) tried to divert but was unable to avoid the accident. ”

Prosecutors in Siena have opened a criminal investigation into the incident and the organization of the race.

Repubblica said that Zanardi remained conscious until the arrival of the medical staff and that he was breathing alone.

“Twenty minutes passed between the time of the accident and the arrival of the medical personnel. It took a while to load him (in the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident, he was speaking, “added Valentini in another interview with local media. .

Valentini stated that he was not an eyewitness to the accident but that he arrived at the scene immediately afterwards.

“It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino, “said Valentini. “The truck made no mistakes. Alex made the mistake. ”

The coach added that Zanardi’s helmet had come off during the accident.

Great race Mario Andretti Tweeted“I’m so anxious and scared about Alex Zanardi that I hold my breath. I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I do and pray pray for this wonderful man. ”

Zanardi, 53, won two CART championships in the United States before a brief stint in Formula One. He returned to America and was racing in Germany in a CART event in 2001 when his two legs were cut in a horrific accident on weekend after the September 11 terrorist attacks. CART only ran because the series was already in Germany at the time of the attacks and could not return to the United States.

During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prostheses – he jokes about getting bigger – and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and became one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. He won four gold and two silver medals at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games, participated in the New York Marathon and set an Ironman record.

His spirit, his will and his determination gave the beloved Italian a larger-than-life character. When he returned to the United States in 2019 to compete for BMW on the Daytona Rolex 24 without his prosthetics, he was the most revered driver in an area that included F1 champion Fernando Alonso.

Drivers around the world have searched for Zanardi for photographs and have been pierced as he tells elaborate, often embellished, stories of his adventures in the almost two decades since many had seen him.

Noted for his infectious smile and whimsical storytelling, Zanardi has repeatedly proven himself to be among the most determined people his peers have ever known.

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



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