HONG KONG (AFP, REUTERS) - The 17-year-old driver who survived a terrifying crash at the Macau Grand Prix was recovering on Tuesday (Nov 20) after a "frightening" spinal operation which took hours longer than expected and was fraught with the risk of paralysis.
Germany's Sophia Floersch, whose Formula Three car was catapulted over safety barriers and into a hut during Sunday's race, needed a bone graft from her hip to fix a spinal fracture.
Doctors said the Van Amersfoort Racing driver spent seven hours in surgery on Monday, much longer than the expected four to five hours, because of the bone graft and the need to set up neurological monitoring.
Clinical director Lei Wai-seng told reporters that Sophia can move her limbs freely but is expected to remain in Macau's Conde S. Januario Hospital for one or two weeks.
He added that Japanese racer Sho Tsuboi, who was apparently protected by his safety arc or halo when Sophia's car hurtled into him, had been discharged, along with a photographer.
Another photographer, who suffered a lacerated liver, and a marshal with a broken jaw, remain under observation, Dr Lei said.
After a collision near the end of a high-speed straight, Sophia's machine bounced off a kerb, clipping the top Tsuboi's TOM's Racing car and flying backwards into a hut housing media and officials.
Team principle Frits Van Amersfoort told Motorsport.com that he received a picture of a smiling Sophia after the operation.
"The operation was frightening because it is known as a risky operation. She will have to stay there for a while, but let's hope we see her again soon where she belongs: in a racing car," he said.
He also described his panic immediately after the crash on Sunday as the team tried in vain to get updates on the young driver's condition.
"The worst thing was the 20 minutes in which we did not know anything, I will not forget that my whole life," he said, adding: "(She) had an angel on the shoulder because it could have been much worse."
Sophia reassured fans on Tuesday that she was recovering well and vowed to return to the sport.
"I'm going to come back," she said on Facebook. "I survived the operation... Hope from now on it only gets better. I have to stay a few more days in Macau until I'm transportable.
"I want to thank all of my fans for every single get-well wishes, which I now start reading. This really motivates me and gives me courage."
Mr Jean Todt, head of governing body International Automobile Federation (FIA), has promised a full investigation into the incident.
Three people died in recent years on the Chinese gambling enclave's tight and hilly street circuit, which has been graced by Formula One greats including Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
British rider Daniel Hegarty died last year after hitting a barrier during the feature motorcycle race.
In 2012, Portugal's Luis Carreira and Hong Kong's Phillip Yau were killed within two days of each other during the Macau Grand Prix.