CHICAGO -- Just hours after his mother died following emergency surgery, Illinois' Bruce Weber decided to coach the top-ranked Illini in Saturday's Big Ten tournament semifinal game.
Dawn Weber, 81, died about 6 p.m. Friday after undergoing surgery for a torn descending aorta. She was taken to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago after complaining of chest pains before the Illini beat Northwestern earlier in the day.
Weber was at the hospital when his mother died, said Kent Brown, Illinois' sports information director.
"This has been a great loss to our family," Weber said in a statement. "My mother has been very influential in my life and career and that is why I have decided to coach the team on Saturday, because that is what she would have wanted."
Mrs. Weber, a widow who lived in Milwaukee, was stricken Friday morning after arriving at the United Center to pick up tickets for Illinois' game. She was attended to by the arena's medical staff and taken to the hospital.
Weber was not told of his mother's illness until after the Illini defeated Northwestern 68-51 in the tournament quarterfinals. Weber had begun his postgame press conference when his wife, Megan, pulled her husband aside.
He spoke with her briefly and returned to the podium, never mentioning his mother. He left for the hospital when the news conference ended.
"Megan asked us not to tell him before the game," Brown said, adding that if Dawn Weber's condition at the time was dire the coach would have been informed immediately. "At that point all they knew was she had chest pains and they were taking her to the hospital."
But doctors soon discovered the situation was much more serious.
The aorta is the main artery that carries blood from the heart. The tear was described as a splitting of the inner layers of the aorta below the heart, allowing blood to flow between the layers.
Dr. Marshall Goldin, head of adult cardiac surgery at Rush, said the survival rate for such a condition was 80 percent but he had cautioned that Weber's age could complicate the procedure.
Mrs. Weber was in surgery for several hours before she died, hospital spokesman John Pontarelli said.
"I would like to thank everyone for keeping my family in their thoughts and prayers," Weber said. "My mother had a tremendous heart and she gave so much to so many people. I'll always love her for that."
News of Dawn Weber's death hit hard for other Big Ten coaches who have known Weber for years, both as the Illinois coach and a longtime assistant to Gene Keady at Purdue.
"I can't even imagine what Bruce is going through," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his team lost to Iowa on Friday night. "This brings perspective that my low isn't as low as I think. My thoughts and prayers just go out to Bruce and his family."
Bruce Weber's brother, Dave, is basketball coach at Glenbrook North High School in Chicago's northern suburbs. He coached his team to a 37-36 win over Hoffman Estates Conant in a Class AA sectional final game Friday night, and did not learn until after the game that his mother had died, assistant coach Bryan Halpern said.