Childhood & Early Life
Terri Schiavo was born as Theresa Marie 'Terri' Schindler on December 3, 1963 in Lower Moreland Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to Robert and Mary Schindler. She had a brother named Bobby and a sister named Suzanne.
As a teenager, she was overweight at 200 pounds against her five-feet-and-three-inches stature. However, by the time she entered college, she had lost 65 pounds with severe dieting.
She met her future husband, Michael Schiavo, in 1982, while studying at Bucks County Community College, and got married two years later on November 10, 1984. In 1986, after her parents retired to Florida, they relocated there, following which she took up a bookkeeping job for an insurance company and her husband became a restaurant manager.
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On February 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo's husband found her lying face-down and unconscious on the floor in the hallway of her St. Petersburg, Florida home. The paramedics put her in ventilator at the Humana Northside Hospital, where it was determined that she had collapsed following a cardiac arrest, possibly caused by excessive liquid diet.
The cardiac arrest caused severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen supply, forcing her into coma for two months. Even after she came out of coma, she was in a "persistent vegetative state" in which she could respond to external stimuli, but had no significant brain function, leaving her unable to even feed herself.
During the first few years, both her husband and her parents fought together to keep her alive, with her husband once taking her to California to place an experimental stimulator on her brain. Back in Florida, she went through neurological testing, as well as speech and occupational therapy until 1994.
After it was revealed that Terri Schiavo had very low potassium levels, her husband Michael filed a malpractice suit against her obstetrician in 1992 for failing to diagnose bulimia as the cause of her infertility. He won the case in November that year, receiving $300,000 compensation and an extra $750,000 for her medical expenses.
Her husband, who had been appointed her legal guardian in 1990, filed a petition to remove her feeding tube in 1998, but her parents claimed that he was motivated by profits from her death. Court-appointed second guardian ad litem Richard Pearse acknowledged that she was unlikely to recover from persistent vegetative state, but also pointed out that both parties had probable conflicts of interest.
Due to the lack of a living will, Pinellas County Judge George Greer considered the testimony of 18 witnesses about her medical condition and her end-of-life wishes in January 2000. Pointing out that she made reliable oral declarations to remove the feeding tubes, he authorized removing artificial life support for her, which was upheld by the Florida Second District Court of Appeal in February.
In March 2000, her parents requested permission for assisted feeding, which was not considered a life-prolonging procedure under Florida law, but the judge denied the request as she was incapable of ingesting nutrients. As Michael was in a relationship with Jodi Centonze by the time, and had fathered a child, the Schindlers also challenged his guardianship, but the court ruled that the evidence was not sufficient or relevant.
Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed for the first time on April 24, 2001, but was reinserted on April 26th after the Schindlers filed a civil suit against Michael Schiavo alleging perjury. After the order against him was reversed, the Schindlers claimed new medical breakthroughs could restore Terri's cognitive ability sufficiently to allow her to make the decision herself.
In October 2002, Judge Greer looked into her CT scan, which showed severe cerebral atrophy, her EEG report, which showed no measurable brain activity, and heard the testimony of five board certified neurologists. He also looked into the entirety of a six-hour-long video of Terri with her mother and neurologist William Hammesfahr, and ruled that she was in a PVS with no hope for significant improvement.
The Schindlers and their supporters circulated short clips from the six-hour video showing minimal reactions and emotions, and also contacted pro-life activist Randall Terry in 2003 to explore available legal options. Interestingly, Nurse Carla Sauer lyer claimed to have informed the Schindlers that Michael had discouraged her to feed Terri orally, but Greer noted that they would have subpoenaed Iyer in previous hearings if it were true.
After Terri's feeding tube was removed for a second time on October 15, 2003, Florida Legislature passed "Terri's Law" to allow Republican Governor Jeb Bush to intervene and move her to another Hospital. However, she had to be returned to the hospice soon after, and later in May 2004, a Circuit Judge overturned "Terri's Law" as unconstitutional, which was later upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.
In February 2005, the Schindlers requested for fMRI test and VitalStim therapy, both of which were denied subsequently, with Judge Greer ordering to remove her feeding tube on March 18, 2005. Republican President George W. Bush created a constitutional crisis by quickly passing the 'Palm Sunday Compromise' bill to transfer the jurisdiction of the case to the federal courts.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court denied all of the Schindlers' federal petitions and appeals, and declined to grant certiorari, ending their legal options. At the same time, the 'Schiavo memo' surfaced, revealing that the republicans were using the highly sensitive case for political advantage against Democrat Senator Bill Nelson.