Tragic mistakes behind footballer’s 39-year coma – and his wife’s devoted care

France international Adams passed away at the age of 73 on Monday, having been in a coma for nearly four decades following a knee operation that went tragically wrong

RIP Jean-Pierre Adams: Former France defender dies aged 73

When Jean-Pierre Adams was admitted to a Lyon hospital for knee surgery in March 1982 he would have hoped that a troublesome issue would be resolved.

Now 34, Adams had enjoyed a successful playing career in France, taking in spells at Nice and Paris Saint-Germain as well as 22 caps for the French national team, who he had opted to play for having left Senegal for Europe with his family when he was just 10.

Adams had begun to take up coaching, and it was on a coaching training camp that the knee injury flared up, with surgery required on his damaged tendon.

The mistakes that happened during his stay in hospital would lead to Adams being in a coma for over half of his life.

Adams was a defender for PSG and France



The former defender died on Monday, aged 73.

On the day of Adams’ operation – which was not urgent – many of the Lyon hospital staff were on strike.

His wife Bernadette insisted that they could and should have cancelled the procedure, but with one anaesthetist looking after eight patients and the former footballer supervised by a trainee, catastrophic mistakes were made.

Intubated poorly, Adams suffered a cardiac arrest and brain damage, with the errors made causing him to be starved of oxygen.

The trainee quickly admitted blame, saying “I was not up to the task I was entrusted with”, but it would be over 10 years before any punishment was meted out.

Both the anaesthetist and the trainee were given one month suspended sentences and fines of around €750, with Adams staying in hospital for the next 15 months.

Bernadette was then told to consider putting her husband in a home, but she insisted on caring for him at their house in Nimes, where the couple have lived for the remainder of their marriage, right up until Adams’ death, which has led to tributes from his former clubs and teammates.

PSG said Adams’: “joie de vivre, charisma and experience commanded respect”, while Nice and Nimes, another former club, have offered their condolences to the family.

Adams underwent his catastrophic knee operation in 1982


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“He was a force of nature, very strong physically, and he had great determination and willingness,” Henri Michel, a former France teammate of Adams’, told CNN.

“He was formidable, very patriotic and it was a pleasure to play with him.

“He started as a forward but then played at the back.”

Adams’ fierce character was needed both on the pitch and off, as he faced scrutiny and suspicion over his relationship with Bernadette, who he met at a dance in Paris in 1968.

“I can’t hide the fact that it was very difficult for my family at the beginning,” Bernadette recalls in the same CNN piece.

“At the time, a black man and a white woman being together wasn’t well-regarded.

“But we began to live together and then decided to marry. I wrote to my parents giving the news, the wedding date and an invitation, and my mother invited us to dinner.

“After that, everything was fine and he was seen in a better light than me: ‘Jean-Pierre, Jean-Pierre’ – they only spoke of Jean-Pierre!”

Adams was at PSG between 1977 and 1979


Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Jean-Pierre and Bernadette were together right up until the former footballer’s death on Monday, the Frenchwoman part of a 52-year marriage during which she spent the vast majority tending to her husband, staying by his side, talking to him, dressing him and buying him presents at Christmas and on his birthday.

Over the years it has often been put to her that she could leave Jean-Pierre’s care to others, or even consider euthanasia, but she steadfastly refused.

She stayed with him right until the end, with Adams’ death being met with an outpouring of grief in France.

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