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Battles end with quiet removal of feeding tube

Terri Schiavo's parents hope for the governor's intervention, but barring that, she will die in weeks.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 16, 2003

PINELLAS PARK - Outside, protesters sang and shouted slogans. Priests prayed through bullhorns while two dozen reporters jockeyed for interviews and police shooed people off the grass.

Inside, behind tight security and unseen by her husband, parents or a watching nation, doctors at Woodside Hospice quietly removed Terri Schiavo's feeding tube Wednesday at precisely 2 p.m., six hours after her last meal.

Within two weeks, the 39-year-old St. Petersburg woman will die, unless Gov. Jeb Bush and his lawyers can find a way to extend her life.

In a day of high drama and intense media scrutiny, a governor who already has said he is powerless to intercede sent his lawyers back once again to find a way to block Mrs. Schiavo's husband from ending the life of his severely brain-damaged wife.

"We are going to seek whatever legal alternatives are available and seek the best minds to find another avenue to submit to the courts to see if there can be a change in this ruling," Bush said at a Hillsborough County dedication for new migrant worker housing.

"I am not a doctor, I am not a lawyer. But I know that if a person can be able to sustain life without life support, that should be tried," the governor said.

Bush's words came after a morning visit by the Schindlers to plead for the governor's help. They raced to Bush's event in Dover just hours before the tube's removal.

Afterward, the Schindlers expressed optimism that Bush will somehow save their daughter.

"We all felt a lot better when we left the interview with him," Bob Schindler said. "I have confidence something will happen. We still have time."

Mary Schindler said, "I just haven't given up hope."

Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, visited his wife through much of the day, apparently arriving through a back entrance, unseen by a crowd of 100 protesters, including one woman who carried a sign saying, "Michael Schiavo is a murderer."

Schiavo, who says his wife is in an irreversible vegetative state, is staying out of the spotlight, granting no interviews.

Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, said Bush should not interfere with the order of a Pinellas-Pasco judge who ruled in 2000 that Mrs. Schiavo would not want to be kept alive by artificial means.

"I think it is very unfortunate that the governor persists in trying to exert political influence on the judicial system," Felos said. "Apparently the governor isn't too interested in the facts."

Felos said he can think of no legal means allowing Bush to reverse the court's order, but added, "No one takes the governor lightly."

The Schindlers' lawyer, Pat Anderson, said Bush is the last hope, since further appeal is fruitless. She doesn't expect to file any last-minute legal challenge, such as the one in 2001 that forced doctors to resume feeding Mrs. Schiavo after the tube had been removed for 60 hours.

"I've turned over a lot of rocks, but I'm not the governor of the state of Florida," Anderson said.

As 2 p.m. passed and doctors removed the feeding tube, a crowd of about 100 people bowed their heads and were led in prayer by a procession of clergy. Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski told the crowd, "Help us influence the minds of our leaders."

Then Mary Schindler, unnoticed by a crowd of two dozen reporters, approached a Pinellas Park police officer standing guard at the hospice driveway, asking for permission to enter and visit her daughter.

Within seconds, reporters and camera crews swooped in, three boom microphones on poles dipping a few feet above the officer's head to pick up conversation. The officer let her and Malanowski pass.

The Schindlers can visit only when Michael Schiavo or his representative is present because they have violated court orders, once by secretly videotaping their daughter.

Within the hour, the entire family visited after passing through two security checkpoints. Outside Mrs. Schiavo's room, three officers were posted.

"It's guarded like Fort Knox," Bob Schindler said.

Mary Schindler kissed her daughter and spoke soothing words to her. Malanowski, a priest who has visited Mrs. Schiavo for several years, prayed and offered a sacrament of healing.

Bob Schindler said his daughter seemed groggy after he hugged and kissed her.

Again and again reporters asked how he felt, whether he and his wife felt they were at road's end. "I'm just hopeful, okay," Bob Schindler said, as family tried to pry him away to rest.

Throughout the day and night, family visited Mrs. Schiavo, though Bob Schindler complained that Michael Schiavo refused at one point to allow some of his daughter's closest friends to visit.

The Schindlers believe their daughter might partially recover if given therapy allowing her to eat and drink without the feeding tube. But lawyers for Michael Schiavo say such therapy won't work.

Mrs. Schiavo has been in her condition since Feb. 25, 1990, when her heart stopped from a probable potassium imbalance, leaving her brain without oxygen for several minutes.

Court-appointed doctors say that she cannot recover and that she has no cognitive function left, though the family and doctors it has hired say Mrs. Schiavo responds to sights and sounds.

Michael Schiavo says his wife told him during his marriage she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means.

The parents say their daughter isn't beyond help.

After her first visit with her daughter once the tube was removed, Mary Schindler retreated to a recreational vehicle where the family rests between visits. She sat on a sofa and sobbed into her hands as photographers rushed to catch the shot. A door finally closed reporters out.

"What we need," said Monsignor Malanowski, "is a miracle."

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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