Popular Pinellas County coach in a coma

Mike Wells, diagnosed with cancer in '06, is not expected to live much longer after a heart attack.

Published May 18, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Former Admiral Farragut boys basketball coach Mike Wells, the state championship winner battling a malignant brain tumor, had a heart attack Monday and is in a coma.

In 26 seasons, Wells won 614 games and the state title in 2004 as well as conducting numerous camps throughout the bay area and overseas. This year he took a break from coaching to undergo chemotherapy. He finished the treatments in April and hoped to resume teaching and coaching.

His wife, Valerie, said Mike had no brain activity. The family took him off life support Thursday at Palms of Pasadena under the care of hospice but he was breathing on his own.

Wells is 53. He and Valerie have three children.

"Mike was such a wonderful man," Valerie Wells said Thursday. "There was so much support for him."

It had not been determined whether the heart attack was related to chemotherapy treatments, she said.

Wells' most recent MRI had been promising and his tumor appeared to be shrinking, his wife said.

On Monday, Wells stopped by Admiral Farragut to visit Valerie, who is a teacher in the choir department. He complained of chest pains, went home and collapsed.

"It was great the three children were able to see him in the hospital," Valerie said. "He is in God's hands now."

The first signs of Wells' illness surfaced in the summer of 2006, when he complained of headaches, Valerie said. Doctors discovered a glioblastoma multiforme in the left frontal lobe of the brain. He went to the hospital Sept. 16 and had surgery to remove the lemon-sized tumor four days later.

The tumor, which contains a mixture of cell types, is one of the most difficult brain tumors to treat, as well as the most common and aggressive, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

Though one cell type is responsive to treatment, others wait for their chance to take over. Headaches, seizures and memory loss are the most common symptoms.

Wells returned home and underwent radiation treatments. He did not coach this season.

"Everyone was stunned about Mike," Admiral Farragut headmaster Bob Fine said in September.

Wells started his coaching career at Orangeville High in Illinois in 1980. Three years later, he was at Keswick Christian, where he spent 15 years. In 1999, he went to Admiral Farragut.

"I learned a lot from Mike," said Keswick Christian athletic director and girls basketball coach Karrmayne King, who worked with Wells for 16 years. "He loved kids and was real passionate about the game of basketball. He will be missed."

The dignity Wells displayed in the face of adversity resonated beyond the basketball court.

Valerie said her husband received thousands of letters from all over the world.

"I never knew how many cared about him," Valerie said. "It was wonderful to see how many people he touched."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com or 727 445-4169.