SI Vault
William Nack
April 15, 2002
Having barely survived a horrific crash in which he lost both legs, Alex Zanardi is attacking rehab with the same passion and purpose that made him a racing champion
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April 15, 2002

After The Miracle

Having barely survived a horrific crash in which he lost both legs, Alex Zanardi is attacking rehab with the same passion and purpose that made him a racing champion

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"Can we salvage anything?"

"No!" said Trammel. "There's blood and body parts all over the track. Nothing to reattach."

"Take him straight to the helicopter," Olvey said. He met the ambulance at the chopper, which was stationed outside the medical center. Zanardi had lost nearly 75% of his blood. His hemoglobin count, a measure of the oxygen-bearing protein in red blood cells, had plunged from 16 to 4. He had used up all his clotting factors. His skin was growing more pallid, his pulse weaker, his breathing more erratic as he began to struggle for air.

Father De Rea had seen men die in racing accidents, and now he stood over Zanardi and thought the driver was surely gone, he was so pale, so weak. The priest said a prayer for the dying: "Open the heavens. Welcome your servant." He unzipped his leather pouch and took out the bottle of holy oil and gave Zanardi last rites, dabbing a finger in the oil and then touching it to the driver's forehead and bare arms. "With this oil I anoint thee," he said. "May the Lord in his love and mercy grant you forgiveness of your sins. I anoint the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Olvey had decided to have the chopper take Zanardi to a large trauma center in Berlin, 37 minutes away by air, rather than to a smaller unit in Dresden, 15 minutes away. Zanardi had just been put on the helicopter when Olvey looked up and saw Daniela Zanardi, the driver's wife and the mother of their three-year-old son, Niccol�, standing nearby with die actress Ashley Judd, then the fianc�e (and now the wife) of driver Dario Franchitti. Daniela was crying. Judd had an arm around her and was reciting scripture and talking softly to her, telling her everything would be all right.

Olvey approached them. "I want to see my husband," Daniela said. Olvey said that Alex was alive but unconscious, and he told Daniela that he did not want her to see Alex right then. He did not tell her about Alex's legs. Angry, Daniela started screaming, "I've got to see him! I've got to see him!"

"I don't want you to see him as he is now," Olvey repeated.

Here another ambulance arrived with a badly shaken Tagliani, whose car had careened to the right after the crash and hit the outside wall. Had Tagliani not flicked his wheel left at that last instant, says Olvey, he would have crashed flush into Zanardi's cockpit and instantly killed them both. Tagliani was taken inside the medical center as he muttered repeatedly, "How is Alex? Where is he? Is he conscious?" Olvey and Trammel ordered the chopper to fly immediately to Berlin. Then they went inside the center to see Tagliani.

Judd thought Daniela should be allowed a moment with her husband. "The helicopter's about to take off, and she hasn't had a chance to see or touch him," Judd says. So she looked at the attendants and cried, "You know what? She needs to see her husband!" They all nodded. They covered Zanardi's torso with a blanket, and Judd walked Daniela to his side.

"I swear to God," Judd recalls, "she touches her husband and says something to him, and she anointed him with her tears, and as we walked away, a German crew member came running over to us and yelled, 'More life! More life!' When Daniela touched him and he heard her voice, he had responded. With more life."

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