A Star Athlete Spent 39 Years in a Coma. His Wife Never Left

Given the chance, Bernadette Adams always chose love and hope
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2022 6:21 AM CDT
A Star Athlete Spent 39 Years in a Coma. His Wife Never Left
   (Getty - bergserg)

Bernadette and Jean-Pierre Adams met in the late 1960s on a dancefloor in central France. She was a hardworking country girl with an 8th-grade education; he was an African immigrant and factory worker with big soccer dreams. When Bernadette's mother met the Black man, she made Bernadette choose. As Wright Thompson reports for ESPN, "Bernadette chose Jean-Pierre." They got married and "Jean-Pierre rose … until he found himself a regular member of the French national team and a fierce center-back for Paris Saint-Germain." They had kids and lived a dazzling life, and they didn't stop dancing—until 1982, when a botched knee surgery left Jean-Pierre in a coma with little brain activity. Doctors said he would never recover and sent him to die in a convalescent home. Again, Bernadette chose Jean-Pierre.

She brought him home, and for 39 years, she cared for him in the "House of the Beautiful Sleeping Athlete," as she called it. She talked to him, they listened to music, and she fed him mashed meals using a "little dance, with just the right amount of spoon twirl" to coax nourishment into his comatose body. She "embroidered her life around him," recalls her sister. Jean-Pierre never emerged from the coma; he died last September at age 73. Others question her choices, but Bernadette has no regrets. "I respected my vows to the end," she says, "I think I had a beautiful life." To Bernadette, writes Thompson, "The only things that mattered were the promises you made to other people, and whether you kept them or not. Every other test of morality was a lie." (Read the incredible story here, which includes Bernadette's lengthy fight to find out what went wrong during surgery.)

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