Unitas gives encouraging signs Ex-Colt recovering from bypass surgery

March 07, 1993|By John F. Steadman | John F. Steadman,Staff Writer

Former Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas underwent coronary bypass surgery early yesterday at the University of Maryland Medical Center, his family said.

Unitas, 59, was listed in serious condition last night, the normal post-operative condition after cardiac surgery.

"We're encouraged about his early signs," said John Unitas Jr., who visited with his father yesterday. "He's a man of great heart."

The operation, directed by a team headed by Dr. Alejandro Sequeira, lasted three hours and was precipitated by a breathing difficulty and chest pains while Unitas was resting at Kernan Hospital after a successful Thursday operation for a right knee replacement, performed by Dr. Kenneth Spence.

The knee had been damaged during Unitas' Hall of Fame career as a quarterback for the Colts, with whom he played for 17 years, and then a final season with the San Diego Chargers.

Unitas' wife, Sandra, accompanied him on the ambulance ride from Kernan Hospital to the University of Maryland Hospital, where doctors in the cardiac unit determined, after tests, that an arterial blockage needed to be corrected.

All eight of Unitas' children -- John Jr., Janice, Christopher, Robert, Kenneth, Joseph, Chad and Paige -- as well as Sandra were at the hospital while the surgery was performed.

Unitas, according to medical staff members, was fortunate from one standpoint. Having the heart problem occur while at Kernan meant his condition was immediately recognized, monitored and treated before he was moved to cardiac care at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Unitas travels extensively about the country on business appointments and making personal appearances. The heart condition could have emerged when he was on a plane or train, which would have made it difficult to obtain immediate medical attention.

Unitas has been in a good frame of mind and was overjoyed a week ago when a reporter called to tell him his son, Kenneth, an officer in the Anne Arundel County Police Department, had tracked down a suspect who was involved in 20 robberies in three different states.

"Gee, that's great," Unitas said. "I'm going to get in touch with him right now to find out more about it."

Doctors said Unitas' otherwise strong physical condition was an advantage in undergoing two operations within 36 hours. They also said it was helpful he had never been a smoker, drank only an occasional beer and maintained his weight close to when he (( played, 190 pounds.

Unitas led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and '59, and then to a championship in Super Bowl V in 1971. He is considered the game's consummate quarterback -- passer, play-caller and competitor.

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