Skip to comments.Fight over woman's feeding tube leaves husband's life in limbo (Terri Schiavo)
Posted on 11/02/2003 9:47:19 AM PST by FairOpinion
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Michael Schiavo is 6 feet 6 inches, with a scrub-brush mustache and a gold chain bearing the crosses his parents wore. He is a nurse who works the graveyard shift, often pulling into his driveway as his neighbors walk their dogs in the moist Florida dawn. He has a meticulously kept yard, a screened-in pool where his friends sometimes gather, a golden retriever, a girlfriend and a year-old daughter.
"My brother is a normal guy who this tragedy happened to," said Brian Schiavo, one of the four brothers with whom Schiavo shared an unremarkable childhood in Levittown, Pa., near Philadelphia.
But because of the tragedy of Schiavo's wife, Terri, 39, who suffered brain damage when she collapsed one night 13 years ago, Michael Schiavo is also at the center of one of the most debated court cases in the nation. He wants to remove her feeding tube, paving the way for her death against the wishes of her parents and supporters who have rallied to their cause.
For this, Schiavo, 40, has been depicted as a heartless fiend.
As the case has gained prominence in recent months, Schiavo has all but refused to tell his side of the story publicly or answer the charges that his in-laws, and people who have never met him, keep leveling. Through his brother Brian and his lawyer, George Felos, he declined to be interviewed for this article.
But as the latest round in the legal battle over Terri Schiavo's fate begins, her husband's friends and relatives are speaking out. They describe a man driven from his home by death threats, who avoids going out in public but for work and court dates. He will not divorce his wife, marry his new love and get on with life, they say, because of his determination to carry out his wife's wish not to live in a vegetative state.
"He's got ethics and values that most people don't have, much less the strength to adhere to them," said Russ Hyden, a friend who said Michael Schiavo supported him through his wife's death from cancer.
Schiavo was two years out of high school when he met Theresa Marie Schindler in 1982, at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania. She had been overweight and frumpy until her senior year of high school, when she started dieting, and Schiavo was her first boyfriend, her family said.
The couple married in 1984, and two years later, decided to move to St. Petersburg, Fla., into a condominium that Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, owned.
When they were not working -- he as a restaurant manager, she as a clerk at Prudential -- they hung out by the pool at their apartment complex or in St. Pete Beach, thick with bars and dance clubs.
While Michael Schiavo's family describes those early years of the marriage as carefree, the Schindlers -- who moved to Florida around the time their daughter did -- say they became dark. Michael Schiavo was a penny pincher who kept track of the mileage on his wife's car and yelled at her for spending money on haircuts, they said.
The Schindlers say that on Feb. 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo told her brother that she and Schiavo had had a violent argument -- a claim Michael Schiavo denies. Michael Schiavo says his wife was asleep when he arrived home from work. In a rare interview on "Larry King Live," he said he awoke at 4:30 a.m. and heard a thud. It was his wife, whom he found on the floor, he said.
By the time paramedics arrived, Schiavo's heart had not pumped for perhaps 10 minutes, doctors found. The prevailing theory is that she had an undiagnosed potassium deficiency, possibly from extreme weight loss or even, her husband has said, bulimia. She had gone from more than 200 pounds in high school to 110 pounds.
The brain damage Schiavo suffered left her able to breathe on her own but not to ingest food or drink. Doctors have said she is in a persistent vegetative state, meaning her eyes are open, but her brain is incapable of emotion, memory or thought.
Brian Schiavo said his brother was determined to rehabilitate his wife.
Michael Schiavo flew his wife to California for treatment, sleeping on a cot beside her bed for a month. He began studying nursing, to take better care of her. He and his wife lived with the Schindlers for a while, and he filed a malpractice suit against Terri Schiavo's doctors for failing to diagnose her health problems. In November 1992, the Schiavos won $1 million in damages: $700,000 for her care, the rest for him.
When the check arrived, the war began. Both sides say that on Valentine's Day, 1993, Michael Schiavo and his father-in-law had an ugly fight in the nursing home where Terri Schiavo was then living. The Schindlers say the fight was about what kind of treatment the money would go toward, with them advocating rigorous therapy and Schiavo wanting only basic care. But Schiavo said it was because Schindler wanted a cut of the settlement.
Schiavo's belief that his wife would recover had evaporated by 1997, his supporters say, when he lost his mother to cancer. But the other side points out that as early as 1993, soon after he won the malpractice money, Michael Schiavo did not want to treat an infection his wife had developed and that he had stopped her rehabilitation even earlier.
Only after his mother's death did Schiavo tell his in-laws that on several occasions, his wife had said she would not want to be kept alive artificially. The timing of the revelation -- after he won the malpractice money and after he began seeing Jodi Centonze, with whom he would eventually have a child -- made the Schindlers deeply suspicious.
For a long time, the Schindlers accused Schiavo of wanting his wife dead so he could spend her settlement money. But Michael Schiavo's lawyer said all but $60,000 has been spent on medical care and legal fees, and that his client would not see a penny of what remains.
Brian Schiavo said his brother felt betrayed by everyone from the Schindlers to the news media to Gov. Jeb Bush, who used a law rushed through the Legislature recently to order Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted. Schiavo has sued to have the law ruled unconstitutional.
Yes, I know what this means, but in context it gave me a chill, because it calls to mind that the Culture of Death is inextricably combined with the practice (or the distortion and malpractice) of medicine.
Just as in Hitler's Germany, the murder of the handicapped and the innocent starts among the doctors.
Pity poor Michael. This terrible tragedy happened to HIM. What a creep!!!
What happened with the lawsuit money? It's not like she's hooked up to any expensive machines. He should be given a divorce freed of any financial obligations except what he should pay back to her from the lawsuit money ----- I don't think he spent all that money on her care.
It sounds like whatever life Terri did have with him was quite miserable. She couldn't even have haircuts?
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