Pope Francis Honors Paralympic Racing Champion in a Coma Following Crash: 'I Am Close to You'

Hand cyclist Alex Zanardi, 53, is reportedly in a coma

Pope Francis, Alex Zandari
Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty;

Pope Francis expressed his support to a former Formula One driver turned Paralympic hand-cycling champion who is in a coma following a horrific crash.

Alex Zanardi suffered life-threatening injuries when he lost control of his handcycle and crashed during a race in Italy on Friday, CNN reported. This is the second time Zanardi has been involved in a severe collision: he had both of his legs amputated following an auto racing accident in 2001.

Called the "nicest man in motorsports" by Autoweek, 53-year-old Zanardi underwent neurological surgery and is now in a coma at Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena.

"The patient is always sedated, intubated and mechanically ventilated and the prognosis remains confidential," a statement from the hospital said, as reported by CNN.

Doctors are worried Zanardi may have brain damage or loss of sight following the crash, Autoweek reported.

Pope Francis General Weekly Audience
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In a display of support, Pope Francis sent a note to Zanardi that was published in the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.

The Pope's letter commended Zanardi for his ability to recover after his 2001 accident, and for how he's inspired other people who have disabilities through his pursuit of Paralympic sports.

"Dearest Alessandro, your story is an example of how to start again after an unforeseen stop," the head of the Catholic church wrote, according to the Vatican News Website. "Through sport, you have taught us to live life as a protagonist, teaching a lesson of humanity through disability.

"Thank you for having given strength to those who have lost it," he continued. "In this painful moment, I am close to you and I pray for you and your family."

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Zanardi's son, Niccolò, has been by his side in the hospital and has posted updates to his Instagram page.

"I do not let go of this hand," Niccolò wrote in the caption of a picture showing him hold Zanardi's hand. "Come on dad, even today a small step forward."

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