PALO ALTO, Calif. – Ronny Turiaf spent the eve of his open-heart surgery eating, drinking and laughing with close friends and members of the Gonzaga University athletic staff.
The former Bulldogs standout and second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers was diagnosed with an enlarged aortic root last week after undergoing a physical examination for the Lakers. He was scheduled to have surgery this morning at 5 at the Stanford University Medical Center.
The surgery, which may require a heart valve replacement that could jeopardize Turiaf’s basketball career, was to be performed by Dr. Craig Miller.
GU coach Mark Few and Bulldogs assistants Bill Grier and Leon Rice flew in from Las Vegas, where they were attending the nation’s premier AAU tournament, to be with Turiaf on Monday evening. They planned to stay through today’s surgery.
The GU coaches had dinner with their former star and reigning West Coast Conference player of the year. Turiaf’s former roommate and teammate, Brian Michaelson, also flew in, as did Gonzaga’s director of athletic training Steve DeLong and director of athletic relations Steve Hertz.
In addition, Turiaf’s girlfriend, Tracy Thomas, paid for her own flight from the Seattle area to be present while the surgery was being performed on the 6-foot-10 native of LeRobert, Martinique.
Turiaf’s mother, Aline Cesar, was scheduled to arrive from Martinique sometime this morning.
Few said Turiaf was upbeat – but a bit apprehensive – over dinner Monday evening.
“We had a good night,” Few said. “We laughed, talked and told a lot of stories. But everybody is still in a little bit of a state of shock.
“You want to be able to do something else to help him, but at this point, it’s in God’s hands.”
Hertz said Turiaf, who spent Monday evening in a local hotel, took care of all his pre-surgery chores at the hospital on Monday afternoon and seemed to be “doing great.”
“And he was very appreciative of the fact that so many members of his Gonzaga family were on hand to help see him through this,” Hertz said. “He’s trying his best to stay low-key about the whole thing, but you can tell he’s worried.”
Turiaf, 22, signed a two-year $1 million contract with the Lakers last week and had played in four games in the NBA’s Summer Pro League in Los Angeles before his condition was diagnosed.
His contract was voided, but the Lakers retain his rights and plan to pay for his surgery.
Few said he has heard good things about the surgeon who will operate on his former star.
“The guy’s good, at least that what I’ve heard,” Few said.
“And he’d better be, because he’s got the life of a very special person in his hands.”
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