Motor racing: Zanardi transferred to specialist recovery centre

FILE PHOTO: Italian driver Alex Zanardi uses his ear sticks before sitting in the cockpit of his specially modified car at the Eurospeedway Lausitzring circuit in the eastern German town of Klettwitz May 11, 2003, before the German 500 CART race. Zanardi returned to the race track in Germany where he lost both legs in a crash. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

(Reuters) - Italian former Formula One driver and Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi has been transferred to a specialist recovery centre a month after suffering serious head injuries in a handbike accident, the hospital treating him said on Tuesday.

The 53-year-old was placed in a medically-induced coma and has had three operations at Siena’s Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital since the accident during a road race near the Italian city on June 19.

Zanardi is an inspirational figure in the worlds of motorsport and Paralympic endeavour, a hugely popular and positive competitor who returned from life-changing injuries with a smile.

The hospital said in a statement that Zanardi’s sedation had been suspended, allowing him to be transferred.

“The stability of the general clinical conditions and the neurological picture allowed the transfer of the champion to a specialised centre for recovery and functional rehabilitation,” it said.

“Alex Zanardi was therefore transferred today to another facility.”

A double Champ Car champion in the United States, Zanardi had to have both of his legs amputated above the knee following a horrific crash in a race in Germany in September 2001.

He recovered to return to the track in touring cars before later taking up paracycling and winning four Paralympic gold medals.

Pope Francis wrote to him last month, calling his life a “lesson of humanity”.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, Editing by Hugh Lawson