The sad story of Jean-Pierre Adams, the French soccer star who has been in coma for 37 years after botched surgery
By Michael Eli Dokosi
The humbling, beautiful yet tragic end of Senegalese-French man Jean-Pierre Adams is as riveting as it is melancholic.
Before Marcel Desailly from Ghana, Kylian Mbappe from Cameroon-Algeria, Paul Pogba from Guinea and Mali’s Ngolo Kante had a path to the French national football team-Les Bleus (The Blues), Jean-Pierre Adams from Senegal had already begun that path.
He became a professional footballer with African ancestry from the West to join the Les Blues as prior admissions had come from North Africa or Martinique.
Adams, born on March 10, 1948, was a central defender who has been in a coma since March 17, 1982, due to medical negligence following an operation handled by a trainee at Lyon Hospital.
What is outstanding is the love displayed by his wife Bernadette who has refused to order his euthanization (assisted suicide or painless death) believing that he will rise from his coma one day.
Despite it being tasking, Bernadette has devoted her time, resources and life to tending to Adams. She changes his clothing, speaks to him and has even informed him that their two children Laurent (born 1969) and Frédéric (1976) have children of their own making him a grandfather.
Bernadette’s resolve must have stemmed from Adams being able to breathe on his own without the assistance of a machine despite being in a vegetative state.
The man from Dakar, Senegal, had wrapped up his playing years with 22 caps for the French team.
His footballing career began when his family sent him for further studies at Collège Saint-Louis. He was hosted by a Jourdain family in Loiret and here, his love for football which was suppressed back home for studies flourished so much that he was nicknamed the “White Wolf”.
After basic schooling, a factory work followed at Montagris but Adams has had his fair share of crashes and mishaps, including a serious knee injury which could have scuppered his professional football hopes.
A stint with l’Entente Bagneaux-Fontainebleau-Nemours (EBFN) followed. He subsequently headed to Military service and then a recommendation to Nîmes.
At a party, he found the lovely Bernadette and although a Black man and a European marriage was frowned upon even if decriminalized, their love triumphed with their 1969 marriage.
Of his physical attributes, Adams was described as a force of nature; strong physically, patriotic and determined.
It was, however, his central defensive partnership with Marius Trésor forming the “Garde Noire” – “Black Guard” – that became famous.
Adams played for Paris Saint-Germain and Nice, narrowly failing to win the French title with the latter again, while also knocking Barcelona out of the 1973-4 UEFA Cup.
According to Bernadette, Adams loved Brazilian music, cigars, clothing and bling, adding that he was humorous and lived life to the brim.
Ending his career in the French divisions, Adams reckoned he could forge a path with youth coaching, thus, on March 17, 1982, he set off to Dijon for three days of studying and training. However, Adams damaged a tendon in his leg.
He went to Lyon hospital where he met a doctor who loved football and assured him he had to undergo a knee operation on an agreed date but when Adams showed up on the appointed day, there was a strike by doctors and nurses.
Not being an emergency, Adams, aged 34, should have returned but he was given an anaesthetic. This was to numb him for the procedure for a few hours but rather Adams slipped into an eternal coma when the anaesthetist made a mistake which starved the footballer’s brain of oxygen.
Since a strike was in effect, it emerged the anaesthetist was overseeing eight operations at once. Compounding the issue, a trainee also put Adams in a wrong bed.
It’s been 37 years since the once jovial man has been in a coma. His last word to his wife before he left for the surgery was “It’s all fine, I’m in great shape.”
But soon Bernadette was summoned on phone; she remained by her husband’s bedside for five days and five nights hoping for a change in his condition.
By November, he was moved north to Chalon, where Bernadette was by his side on a daily basis.
When the hospital said they could no longer look after Adams, he was moved to a custom-built home Bernadette had set up, naming it Mas du bel athléte dormant — the House of the Beautiful Sleeping Athlete.
Support came from Nîmes and PSG, both offering 15,000 francs ($15,000) while the French football federation gave her F6,000 per week after an initial contribution of F25,000 in December 1982.
In addition, Adams’s former clubs played charity matches. The Variétés Club de France, a charitable organisation still running today and backed by Platini, Zinedine Zidane and Jean-Pierre Papin, played a fixture in the comatose player’s honour against a group of his footballing friends.
Legally, it took seven years before the Seventh Chamber of Correctional Tribunal in Lyon found the doctors guilty of involuntary injury. The anaesthetist and trainee were given a one-month suspended sentence and a fine that translates to $815.
Each day, Adams, now 71, is washed and dressed by Bernadette, who maintains that her husband still has some cognitive function.
“Jean-Pierre feels, smells, hears, jumps when a dog barks. But he cannot see,” she said in 2007.
Although Adams suffered significant damage to his brain, he curiously does not age.
What of ending it all so she can be free?
“It’s unthinkable! He cannot speak and it’s not for me to decide for him,” Bernadette said, rounding up a tale shining light on human endurance on Adams part and devotion on his wife’s part.
Perhaps the true test will come should Bernadette die before Adams, then the fate of the French man from Senegal will be decided.