The objective was to assess the effectiveness of the weight-elimination cost function in improving classification performance of artificial neural networks (ANNs) and to observe how changing the a priori distribution of the training set affects network performance. Backpropagation feedforward ANNs with and without weight-elimination estimated mortality for coronary artery surgery patients. The ANNs were trained and tested on cases with 32 input variables describing the patient's medical history; the output variable was in-hospital mortality (mortality rates: training 3.7%, test 3.8%). Artificial training sets with mortality rates of 20%, 50%, and 80% were created to observe the impact of training with a higher-than-normal prevalence. When the results were averaged, weight-elimination networks achieved higher sensitivity rates than those without weight-elimination. Networks trained on higher-than-normal prevalence achieved higher sensitivity rates at the cost of lower specificity and correct classification. The weight-elimination cost function can improve the classification performance when the network is trained with a higher-than-normal prevalence. A network trained with a moderately high artificial mortality rate (artificial mortality rate of 20%) can improve the sensitivity of the model without significantly affecting other aspects of the model's performance. The ANN mortality model achieved comparable performance as additive and statistical models for coronary surgery mortality estimation in the literature.