Friday, July 20, 2007
Doctors not backing down against Weis in malpractice suit
BOSTON -- On the practice field, in a recruit's house, at
halftime in the locker room when he is channeling Knute Rockne,
Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis speaks -- growls -- and darn
near always gets what he wants.
That take-charge style has not worked in a courtroom, where he
is suing two doctors over a gastric bypass surgery that left him so
close to death that a clergyman was summoned to administer last
A first trial ended in a mistrial, and the doctors have refused
to settle or concede carelessness. Doctors say it was Weis who
rushed through pre-surgery exams because, at 350 pounds, he was
desperate to lose weight.
"I've always felt pretty good about being able to control
things in my life," the Fighting Irish football coach testified
this week. "I always felt very disappointed that this was
something I couldn't control."
A whistle-wearing grizzly with Super Bowl rings for four
fingers, Weis was lapsing in and out of consciousness when he awoke
in intensive care to see the priest above him. "Don't you dare,'"
he recalled saying. "He told me he would give me a prayer for the
sick and not a prayer for the dead."
The doctors have been more difficult for Weis to master.
Harvard-trained Drs. Charles Ferguson and Richard Hodin say it
was reasonable to wait more than 30 hours to see if Weis' internal
bleeding would stop by itself, rather than subject him to the risks
of another surgery. They have dismissed the notion of a settlement.
"There was no carelessness," their attorney, William Dailey
Jr., said before in a mistrial was declared in the first trial in
February -- the day before it was expected to go to the jury -- when
one of the jurors collapsed and the doctors on trial rushed to help
Weis, a notoriously foul-mouthed understudy to Bill Parcells and
Bill Belichick in the NFL, sat quietly and alone in a Suffolk
County courtroom this week while the doctors and lawyers discussed
his medical care.
Called to testify, Weis spoke in a low voice, only occasionally
growing animated and sprinkling his comments with "OK?" and
"trust me" -- the super-confident verbal ticks common in coaching.
Quarterback Tom Brady attested to Weis' disappointment over
being unable to attend a preseason game. Largely unable to walk or
stand, Weis described how he was forced from the sideline to the
coaches' box above the field: a spectator.
"He's always been an extremely intense person, an intense
individual, an intense coach," Brady said in the first trial. His
testimony was read back to the jury by a stand-in on Thursday -- depriving the retrial of its star power.
"I think he's never allowed anybody to give any less than his
best," Brady said. "It was never perfect. He had the highest
expectations of anybody I've ever been around."
Weis expected much of himself, too.
With a family history of weight problems and heart disease -- his
father died of a heart attack at 56 -- Weis was himself a poor
athlete and out of place among the professional football players he
He worried about leaving his wife a widow, his children without
a father. At the time he was offensive coordinator for the Patriots
and had started getting "nibbles" for NFL head coaching jobs.
But watching the DVD of the Patriots' run to the championship,
"I looked at myself and saw a disaster," Weis said. "I wouldn't
hire that guy."
Weis made the circuit of fad diets before deciding, after seeing
a slimmed-down Al Roker on TV, to consider gastric bypass.
By the time he met with Dr. Lee Kaplan at the Massachusetts
General Hospital Weight Center that June, his mind was made up. And
with the decision came high expectations.
He told doctors he needed get into the operating room quickly,
so he could recover by training camp and not be a "distraction."
He didn't need the six-week pre-op program. He asked no questions
of the doctors.
"I would say he pushed himself through it," Ferguson said.
Weis told no one but his wife and Brady; he told Belichick it
was "a stomach procedure."
But Kaplan had tests to schedule: a psychiatric evaluation was
necessary, and Weis needed to meet with a nutritionist.
Appointments that usually took two weeks to get were set up in a
day or two.
"He was busy with a number of events during that time period
that related to the Patriots previous season, events related to the
fact that they won the Super Bowl. But we got it done," Kaplan
"Do I believe we cut corners?" Kaplan asked and answered:
"Quite the opposite."
From the beginning, Kaplan said, he laid out the risks of
surgery, up to and including death.
It was the fear of a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the
lung, that led doctors to monitor Weis rather than go back in when
he bled internally after the bypass. The bleeding will normally
stop on its own, the doctors testified.
It did not for Weis, and surgeons had to open him back up to
repair a leak.
Weis spent the next two months in hospitals and in the
first-floor study his wife converted to a bedroom. Brady visited
his mentor after training camp for "a rah-rah pep talk," Weis
"I felt like I was kind of at a crossroads in my life," Weis
said. "I'm a football coach. I'm paid handsomely to be a football
coach. I thought that might be the end of it."
The doctors note that Weis got his dream job after the surgery,
as he had hoped. And though he still walks with what he described
as "a slow waddle," Weis dropped more than 100 pounds -- to 242 -- before settling into "the 70's."
And, Brady testified, "the old Charlie" was back.
"Oh, yes, certainly," the quarterback said. "I got the brunt
of it, too."