Weis testifies he had surgery to avoid health risks

Updated: February 15, 2007, 9:44 AM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Despite the potential risks, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis decided to have gastric bypass surgery because he was afraid he would one day "drop dead" if he didn't lose weight.

Charlie Weis
AP Photo/Suzanne Kreiter, PoolNotre Dame coach Charlie Weis testified he had gastric bypass surgery because he thought he would die because of his weight.

Weis, who suffered life-threatening complications and nearly died after the June 2002 surgery, testified Wednesday in his medical malpractice case against two surgeons that he has struggled with his weight all his life.

"I've probably been on every diet known to mankind," he said in response to questions from his lawyer, Michael Mone.

Weis, whose father died of a heart attack at 56, said he worried he wouldn't be able to see his two children grow up or reach his goal of becoming a head coach.

"The foremost concern was that I was going to drop dead," Weis said when his lawyer asked about his motivation for the surgery.

Weis claims in his suit that Massachusetts General Hospital physicians Charles Ferguson and Richard Hodin acted negligently by failing to recognize life-threatening internal bleeding and infection two days after the surgery.

Defense lawyers have said the doctors cared for Weis properly and that he experienced one of the known complications of the surgery.

Weis spent more than a month in the hospital after the surgery, lost feeling in his feet, and has had mobility problems since the surgery. He still needs a golf cart to get around practice at Notre Dame, and standing for up to five hours straight during games causes him severe foot pain.

Weis, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, decided to have the surgery shortly after the Patriots' February 2002 Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams.

"I was watching the DVD of the Super Bowl, and I just looked at myself on the sideline and I said, 'We got a problem here,'" Weis testified on the second day of the trial in Suffolk Superior Court.

He thought his weight, about 336 pounds at the time, was thwarting his career.

"I looked at the DVD and said, 'If I were hiring, I wouldn't hire him,'" he said.

William J. Dailey Jr., a lawyer for the doctors, suggested under cross examination of Weis that the surgery was successful because it helped Weis achieve his stated goals: He lost nearly 90 pounds and landed his dream job at Notre Dame.

Dailey also asked Weis about his prior history of health problems, including sleep apnea and hemochromatosis, an iron overload in the body, and asked if he fully realized all the risks of bypass surgery. Five to 10 percent of patients suffer major complications, Dailey said, and about 1 in 200 die.

Weis said he did know about the potential complications. "Yes sir, (Dr. Ferguson) definitely told me there were other risks," he said.

Dailey also pointed out the doctors waived the normal counseling period before the operation -- at Weis' request -- so he could be healthy in time for the following football season.

Weis said he was so secretive about his decision to have the surgery that he didn't tell his wife until about two weeks before the operation. The only member of the Patriots he confided in besides the team doctor was quarterback Tom Brady.

Maura Weis testified she was upset when she found out her husband was getting the operation because of the known risks, and that when she saw him in the hospital afterward she thought he might die.

Weis said he remembered waking up in the hospital's intensive care unit after the surgery and seeing Brady and a priest at his bedside. Brady was not in court Wednesday, but may testify later.

Weis is seeking unspecified damages. The trial continues Thursday.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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