SIENA, Italy — Alex Zanardi, the Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist, was transferred to a neurological rehab 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 for rehabiliation but, in accordance with Zanatrdi’s family, did not say where he was taken.
Later, an official at Valduce hospital in Como confirmed Zanardi had been moved to the Villa Beretta rehab center – which is run by the Valduce – in Costa Masnaga, northern Italy.
Before entering the rehab center Zanardi, 53, 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.
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 Alex Zanardi was awake or not when transferred to rehab. 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. He was a winner and two-time champion in the CART series who also drove in Formula One and IMSA.
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.