A Portuguese driver who couldn't move or see after suffering serious head trauma and neck injuries has recovered to not only return to motorsport but win big.
Tiago Monteiro, a former Formula One racer who turns 43 next week, described his return to win an emotional World Touring Car Championship race on home soil as going through hell to get to heaven.
He endured a gruelling yearlong recovery period, spending 60 hours in a hyperbaric chamber to regenerate cells and getting four botox injections into his eyes to help restore his vision.
It all followed a disastrous accident in September 2017 which put Monteiro's chances of having a normal life, never mind getting behind a steering wheel, at risk.
Back then, Monteiro was leading the World Touring Car Championship standings when a high-speed testing crash in Barcelona saw his life turned upside down.
He spent four weeks in intensive care in Spain with serious head and neck injuries before he could be transferred home to Portugal.
“They were very worried about swelling in my cervical vertebrae, whether I needed surgery,” Monteiro recalls.
“The probability of coming back was very small. The first thing was to have a normal life.”
Monteiro never lost his determination to return to the racetrack and once able to leave the house, he did everything he could to pursue that goal.
“I used a hyperbaric chamber, which I spent 60 hours in; two hours a day breathing pure oxygen to regenerate cells.
“I did oxygen therapy, ozone therapy – in which they take your blood away, mix it with the ozone and put it back in you – I did lots of osteopathy, chiropractor, physio, initially just hardly moving.
“After a while, when I was able to move a bit more, I started my training in physiotherapy in the water, a swimming pool with special instruments and gym tools.
“We did some botox injections inside my eyes because my sixth nerve, the outside nerve that opens your eye, had been stretched in the impact.
“Then I went to a specialist in San Diego and spent eight hours a day on a drip. It was a mix of lots of vitamins, amino acids and things they use for very big head traumas and injuries.
“It [was] a small miracle that I recovered my vision. The head trauma that I had was much bigger than we initially thought. Therefore, everybody recommended a minimum of 11 to 12 months of no impacts, so we could not risk racing [for a long time].”
After more than a year of specialist treatment and rehabilitation and small miracles, Monteiro was ready to race by the end of October 2018.
Receiving a guard of honour from his fellow drivers, Monteiro was immediately competitive, finishing just outside the points in the Race of Japan at Suzuka.
He began the 2019 season in April with two top-ten finishes before he, and his team, began to struggle for form, finding themselves at the back of the grid time and again.
Even at this month's Race of Portugal, a collision put paid to Monteiro's hopes in the first race. However, by race three, Monteiro and his KCMG teammate Attila Tassi were in flying form.
Tassi held the early lead but a technical glitch saw him forced to retire, opening the door to Monteiro.
It was a chance he wasn't going to miss.
Roared to the line by thousands of his home fans, he had his Hollywood ending.
“It’s been emotional. The pressure, the demand from the fans, from everybody, from myself… I wanted to do something good, but you never know what is possible.
“If you look back a few months we’ve been going through hell, the last few races have been so hard that a lot of people have been starting to question our capacities for doing the job, and even questioning my capacities. Internally we never really accepted those criticisms and we kept fighting and working.
“I’m just over the moon. It’s such an important chapter in my life. I went through hell and now I’m coming back to heaven really and enjoying every moment that I can.”
One victory isn't the end of Monteiro's film, though.
“This refuels the ignition. If I wanted to give up, I would have done it already. I’ve had so many opportunities to stop and focus on other things, but I love racing so much. This ignites even more my will, my motivation, my everything. I want more, I really want more.
“We are living an amazing dream. I am so grateful for being alive, being in one piece, being able to come back but being able to come back at a good level, wow!”