Story highlightsFormer France international Jean-Pierre Adams has been in coma for 38 yearsAdams fell into coma after routine operation went wrongNow 68, Adams looked after by his wife Bernadette
Former France international Jean-Pierre Adams entered into a coma in 1982 following a botched operation on his knee. His story is being republished by CNN International to mark his 72nd birthday on March 10, meaning he has now spent over half his life in a coma. The article was first published on January 4, 2016. CNN Sport contacted his wife Bernadette this week to check how Adams and her were doing. “We are going as well as possible, of course,” said Bernadette.
Nimes, France (CNN)What present do you buy a man who has been in a coma for more than 30 years?
That’s the question the family of former France international Jean-Pierre Adams, whose life was brutally turned upside down in 1982, asks itself every year on key anniversaries. Thirty-six years ago the beefy footballer, then 34, walked into a Lyon hospital for some routine surgery to correct a troublesome knee. By the time he left, he would never talk, walk or move any of his limbs again. His wife Bernadette has tended to him ever since, barely missing a day’s care over the last three decades.Read More”No one ever forgets to give Jean-Pierre presents, whether it’s his birthday, Christmas or Father’s Day,” Bernadette told CNN. Adams, who turned 72 on March 10, can breathe on his own, without the assistance of a machine, and has his own room, where he spends most of the day in the type of modified bed normally found in a hospital. “We buy presents like a T-shirt or a jumper because I dress him in his bed — he changes clothes every day,” his wife explains at the family home near Nîmes, in the south of France, where Bernadette cares for Jean-Pierre. “I’ll buy things so that he can have a nice room, such as pretty sheets, or some scent. He used to wear Paco Rabanne but his favorite one stopped so now I buy Sauvage by Dior.” Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyJean-Pierre Adams: a life in pictures – Jean-Pierre Adams is a former France international who has spent the last 36 years in a coma. Hide Caption 1 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyHappier Times – He went into the coma on March 17, 1982 after a routine operation went wrong.Hide Caption 2 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyPapal Blessing – Hidden in the darkness, Jean-Pierre meets Pope Pius XII shortly after being taken to Europe by his grandmother from Senegal. The picture is from a scrapbook that Bernadette still holds. Hide Caption 3 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyThe Adams Family – Jean-Pierre and Bernadette celebrate the birth of son Laurent in 1969. Their eldest son, who now lives in Corsica, was 11 when his father’s accident occurred. Hide Caption 4 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storySeventies Style – Jean-Pierre and son Laurent in happier times. One of Bernadette’s regrets is the absence of a father figure during her sons’ upbringing and her inability to watch their sporting progress. “The accident certainly changed their lives. I didn’t always follow Laurent’s football, since I couldn’t travel. He would go with the neighbors. The youngest did judo and from time to time, I went to watch him compete — whenever I could — but it wasn’t often.” Hide Caption 5 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyGuardian Angel – Bernadette has looked after her husband for the past 34 years. “It’s difficult because it’s true that I am no longer young,” she says. “He’ll die without being looked after. If I don’t do it, who will?” Hide Caption 6 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyDefence and Attack – Jean-Pierre was born in Senegal but moved to France at the age of 10. Between meeting and marrying Bernadette, he had to undergo his military service — which included dealing with the events of May 1968, when France was gripped by civil unrest. Hide Caption 7 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love story'Garde Noire' – Marius Trésor (left) and Adams (right) formed a defensive unit known as the “Garde Noire” or “Black Guard.” It was the first time France had ever had two black players in the center of defense. Hide Caption 8 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyHigh Praise – Trésor (bottom left) and Adams (bottom right) were more than just a fancy moniker. “Adams and Trésor have formed one of the best center-back pairings in all of Europe,” said Germany’s 1974 World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer. Hide Caption 9 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyBlues Brothers – Adams (back row, second from right) played in a France side that was “in construction,” according to team-mate Henri Michel. The only major competition “Les Bleus” contested in the 1970s was the World Cup in 1978, though by then Adams’ France career was over. He made his debut in 1972 and finished in 1976. Hide Caption 10 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love story'A very sad case' – Michel played alongside Adams in both the French army and the country’s full national team. He remembers Adams as a “formidable team-mate” but worries if enough is being done to help his family. “A little bit like everything these days, when so much is going on, I’m not sure he’s in that many people’s minds. Perhaps more could be done for him. It’s a very sad case. What his wife has done seems unthinkable. Incredible.” Hide Caption 11 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyRapid Rise – Adams leaped straight from the amateur divisions to the French top flight, where he played for Nîmes (1970-3: above), Nice (1973-7) and Paris Saint-Germain (1977-9). Hide Caption 12 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyNice Touch – Nice fans display a banner reading “J-P Adams: One of Us” on 28 April 2007, ahead of their former player’s sons — Laurent and Frédéric — symbolically kicking off a match against Auxerre in tribute to their father. Hide Caption 13 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyFootball Family – Laurent (left) and Frédéric hold a shirt bearing their father’s name ahead of the Auxerre match. “This sort of gesture reminds us that members of the football family have not forgotten our father and all he did for the clubs he played for,” Laurent told reporters on the day. Hide Caption 14 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyCharity Match – A program showing a match organized by Adams’ former club Nîmes in aid of the footballer in 1984, two years after his accident. Hide Caption 15 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyAdams & Adams – Jacques Vendroux, the general manager of the Variety Club of France (pictured here giving instructions to former France legends Laurent Blanc and Jean Fernandez), compares Adams to his namesake Tony, of Arsenal and England fame. “He was very strong in the air, very athletic and was a sort of sweeper. He was like that legendary Arsenal defender, who cleaned up everything and made the pitch free for others.” Hide Caption 16 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyTrésor'ing the memory – Trésor, who now largely works for Bordeaux’s TV channel, is keen to preserve the memory he has of his former team-mate and good friend. “Marius still regularly visits Jean-Pierre’s home,” said Vendroux. “He knows he is in his room but he does not go in to see him.” Hide Caption 17 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyNice Try – Pictured with former Dutch international Dick van Dijk, Adams enjoyed his time at Nice, helping the side finish second in the French championship in 1976. It was the closest Nice had come to winning the title since the club’s last triumph in 1959. Hide Caption 18 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyTeam Bond – Trésor and Michel Platini, the UEFA President currently suspended by FIFA amidst an ongoing corruption inquiry, were instrumental in helping arrange matches on behalf of Bernadette, says Vendroux. “The Variety Club (VCF) has played several matches on behalf of Jean-Pierre, above all on the initiative of Platini and Trésor. This is because Jean-Pierre, towards the end of his career, played several matches for the VCF so the least we could do was bring together all the great internationals from the 1980s to play a match for him.” Hide Caption 19 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyLegendary Moments – At another tribute game for their father many years earlier, Laurent and Frédéric are pictured alongside Jean-Pierre’s former France colleagues Trésor and 1984 European Championship hero Alain Giresse. Hide Caption 20 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyRugby Football – France rugby great Serge Blanco, who starred in the 1980s, was another to turn out for one of Adams’ charity matches. Hide Caption 21 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyHome Help – There are no pictures of Jean-Pierre today as Bernadette is keen to preserve the memory of her husband from his heyday. For the last three decades, he has rarely left his family home in Caissargues, just outside Nîmes in southern France. Hide Caption 22 of 23 Photos: Jean-Pierre and Bernadette Adams: The greatest untold love storyFuture Conditional – Bernadette continues to preserve both Jean-Pierre’s legacy and dignity, while hoping he awakes from his 34-year-long coma. Hide Caption 23 of 23Jean-Pierre’s disastrous surgery reduced a flamboyant character, who had risen from humble beginnings in Senegal, to one who has been in a persistent vegetative state ever since. A France international player in the 1970s, Jean-Pierre is now incapable of nearly all voluntary movement but can digest food as well as open and close his eyes. Bernadette looks after her husband with an unfailing love — dressing, feeding and bathing him, turning him over in his bed to avoid sores, and often losing her own sleep to ensure he gets his. It’s a measure of their bond that on the rare occasions Bernadette spends a night away from home, Jean-Pierre’s carers notice his mood seems to change. “He senses that it is not me feeding him and looking after him,” says his wife of 51 years. “It’s the nurses who tell me, saying he is not the same.”I think he feels things. He must recognize the sound of my voice as well.” JUST WATCHEDArsene Wenger: Kylian Mbappe is the new PeleReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Arsene Wenger: Kylian Mbappe is the new Pele 01:34The period of enlightenmentJean-Pierre and Bernadette may have been born in Senegal and France respectively, but their lives started to converge in the mid-1950s. That was when Jean-Pierre’s grandmother took him to Europe on a religious pilgrimage, enrolling the 10-year-old at a school in France as she did so. Soon adopted by a local French couple, his African existence rapidly started to disappear behind him. It was in the late 1960s, that Jean-Pierre, then an amateur footballer, met Bernadette at a dance. It was a time of change, with the uprising of May 1968 heralding a new era as students and workers altered France’s cultural outlook as they challenged the conservative nature of General de Gaulle’s government. “I can’t hide the fact that it was very difficult for my family at the beginning,” Bernadette recalls, reflecting on the challenges they faced as a mixed race couple. “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!” JUST WATCHEDKylian Mbappé’s biggest fans are in BondyReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Kylian Mbappé’s biggest fans are in Bondy 02:30The couple first lived just south of Paris — in Fontainebleu — where Adams was helping the local side win its amateur championship, but shortly after their 1969 marriage, they moved to Nîmes as Jean-Pierre signed for the city’s then first division side. Within two years, not only had Nîmes finished runners-up but Jean-Pierre was playing for France — one of the first black players to do so. “He was a force of nature, very strong physically, and he had great determination and willingness,” Henri Michel, who played in Adams’ first competitive France international in 1972, told CNN. “He was formidable, very patriotic and it was a pleasure to play with him,” added a man who coached France at the 1986 World Cup. “He started as a forward but then played at the back.” There, Adams formed a central defensive partnership known as the “Garde Noire” — “Black Guard” — alongside Marius Trésor, a player the Brazilian Pele named, in 2004, among his 125 greatest living footballers. “Adams and Trésor have formed one of the best central defensive pairings in all of Europe,” no less a figure than German World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer told French football magazine “Onze” at the time. Arguably, along with previous black internationals like Larbi Ben Barek and Lucien Cossou, the “Garde Noire” helped pave the way for France’s 1998 World Cup success. Key players such as Patrick Vieira, Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram were born in Senegal, Ghana and Guadeloupe respectively. In total, Jean-Pierre won 22 caps and also 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.JUST WATCHEDFC Barcelona joins soccer documentary crazeReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
FC Barcelona joins soccer documentary craze 01:42 Life was just good off the pitch. With a love of music — particularly from Brazil — and a taste for cigars, clothing and bling, Jean-Pierre fully enjoyed 1970s life with Bernadette. “He was the ‘joie de vivre’ embodied in human form — a laugher and joker who liked to go out,” says Bernadette, who is dressed in an à la mode Desigual T-shirt and spotless white trousers on the day we met. “Really, a smile was always bursting out. He loved the good life and was loved by everybody as well.” As his career faded, dropping down the divisions, Adams decided he wanted to coach youths and one March day in 1982, he headed off to Dijon for three days of studying and training. He damaged a tendon in his leg while there — an innocuous injury that would ultimately cast a huge shadow over the Adams family. READ: The match that changed footballThe ‘perfect storm’ Jean-Pierre traveled to the Édouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon for his X-ray. “From there, he was to come home,” recalls Bernadette. “But he was walking along a corridor in the hospital — where he knew no one — when a doctor who knew all about football, since he looked after the Lyon team, walked past.” Stopping to talk, the doctor instantly offered to help and after an instant consultation, he decided upon surgery and booked Jean-Pierre in for an appointment: Wednesday March 17, 1982. When the date came around, there was a problem. The hospital staff were on strike. Jean-Pierre’s case was far from urgent — he could have soldiered on for a bit — but the surgery went ahead nonetheless. “The female anesthetist was looking after eight patients, one after the other, like an assembly line,” says Bernadette. JUST WATCHEDFlamengo fans find home 5,700 miles away through footballReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Flamengo fans find home 5,700 miles away through football 03:20″Jean-Pierre was supervised by a trainee, who was repeating a year, who later admitted in court: ‘I was not up to the task I was entrusted with.'”Given it was not a vital operation, that the hospital was on strike, they were missing doctors and this woman was looking after eight patients, in two different rooms, someone should have called me to say they were going to delay the operation.” They never did — and between the anesthetist and trainee, numerous errors were made. Jean-Pierre was badly intubated, with one tube blocking the pathway to his lungs rather than ventilating them, meaning he was starved of oxygen whereupon he suffered a cardiac arrest. “I found him lying on a bed, tubes everywhere,” she remembers after rushing to the hospital. “I didn’t leave the hospital for five days. I thought he was going to wake up and that I needed to be there.” When she felt fresh air again, the world had become a very different place. Life nowAfter 15 months in hospital, local authorities suggested to Bernadette that the best place for her husband would be a nearby home for the elderly. “I don’t think they knew how to look after him, so I said to myself: ‘He will come home’ and I’ve looked after him ever since,” says Bernadette. Every day, she wakes just before seven o’clock and has her breakfast — precious minutes spent alone — as she readies herself to care for her husband. JUST WATCHEDCOPA90: Is 1995 Ajax the coolest football team ever?ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
COPA90: Is 1995 Ajax the coolest football team ever? 04:47It’s a mix of changing clothes, shaving, preparing food — all of it blended — and delivering it, which can take an hour, helping Jean-Pierre go to the toilet, while also helping the kinesiologist ensure his lungs are clean and his muscles exercised to avoid choking and atrophying. If she is lucky her day finishes at eight, when Jean-Pierre might go to sleep.”Sometimes when the night goes badly, I’m up for the whole thing.” The round-the-clock care leaves little time to earn a living, but thankfully for the stoic Bernadette, she receives an annuity after a court ruled in her favor — albeit after a decade-long legal battle. “The process lasted nearly 12 years. I think it’s designed to discourage people,” she ventures. “If I hadn’t had the support of football, I would have been completely broke.” The French league, football federation and the Variety Club of France — a club for former France internationals — all rallied together to help with her legal fees. Although the accident occurred in 1982, it wasn’t until 1989 that the medical staff were found guilty of “involuntary injury” — and even then, it still needed nearly five more years to decide the family’s dues. “We’ve played five or six games over the years because we knew that Bernadette was in financial and psychological difficulty,” Jacques Vendroux, the general manager of the Variety Club of France, told CNN. JUST WATCHEDHow Thomas Partey risked everything to follow his football dreamsReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
How Thomas Partey risked everything to follow his football dreams 02:45″Jean-Pierre was someone very appealing and deserved help. He is still alive and that is amazing.” He’s also made to feel as much part of family life as possible, with his room adjoining the house’s focal point, the kitchen-cum-living room. “I talk to him all the time — about TV, what’s in the mail, anything!” Bernadette says. “There is always movement around him. He is always next to us.” When I ask whether she ever imagines conversations the pair might have had, Bernadette momentarily chokes up — a brief insight into the true cost of the accident for a proud and serene woman. “I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s difficult to say. I say he doesn’t understand my words but there might be moments when he has a flash. Perhaps for an instant, just an instant, he understands something.” It’s unlikely though. Gray hairsJean-Pierre’s brain was so starved of oxygen he suffered catastrophic brain damage, making the prospect of recovery very slim. “The more time that passes, the more bothered I get,” she says. “His condition does not get any worse, so who knows? If one day, medical science evolves, then why not? Will there be a day when they’ll know how to do something for him? I don’t know.” While she relentlessly hopes there is, she continues to preserve both his legacy and dignity. She told me long before our meeting that no pictures of Jean-Pierre would be allowed and when I asked if I could photograph the entrance to his room, the answer was Bernadette pushing the door shut — gently but firmly. JUST WATCHEDZlatan Ibrahimovic statue vandalized againReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Zlatan Ibrahimovic statue vandalized again 01:15But she happily introduces me to Jean-Pierre, but he still looks very youthful — with just a light sprinkle of gray hairs. He was sleeping, I was told, even though his eyes were open. On his bed was a bright bedspread, a present from many years back, and in the corner a small TV. At one point after he had woken up, Bernadette briefly left the room. I stood there awkwardly — all notions of explaining how I once lived in Senegal pushed to one side as such inane conversation seemed so glib I fell into silence instead. With Jean-Pierre’s eyes unable to follow, I felt invisible and, given his situation, both sad and angry. “The hospital has never apologized,” Bernadette had said just minutes earlier. Future conditional Jean-Pierre’s wife is troubled at present. By the future. “Imagine if I die before him, then what would become of him?” she asks. “He’ll die without being looked after. He needs me to be able to eat, to meet his primary needs. If I don’t do it, who will?” When I ask whether her sons — Laurent and Frédéric, who were 11 and four respectively at the time of the accident — could help, she revealed that she was desperate to spare them such a fate. Had she ever considered euthanasia for Jean-Pierre? JUST WATCHEDCristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid’s lionReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid’s lion 01:52″What do you want me to do — deprive him of food? Let him die little by little? No, no, no,” she railed. Back in 1982 as Bernadette drove to Lyon that was also a question that haunted her, terrified she would be asked to agree to switch off the life support machine Jean-Pierre was then on. “I try not to think about the accident every day but I have no choice,” says Bernadette, who is now a grandmother of three. “Every time I look at him, it is present in my head.” In the mid 1990s, when the court adjudicated on the case, both the anesthetist and trainee were given what would appear to be relatively light punishments: a one-month suspended sentence and a fine that translates to some 750 Euros ($815) today. Decades on, the Adams family are still paying a far heavier price.
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