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Word for Word

15 years ago, Terri Schiavo's 'last hope'

Published March 24, 2005

To date, The St. Petersburg Times has published about 500 articles about Terri Schiavo. The first one appeared almost 15 years ago, on Nov. 15, 1990.

At the time, the city of St. Pete Beach was still called St. Petersburg Beach and Michael Schiavo and Terri's parents were still speaking to one another. Here is the story, exactly as it was published.

- MIKE WILSON, assistant managing editor/Newsfeatures

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG BEACH - Mike Schiavo vividly remembers the morning of Feb. 25. Usually a late sleeper, Schiavo awakened suddenly about 5 a.m. and started to get out of bed.

"For some strange reason that day, I was just taking the covers off, and then she hit the floor," he said.

Schiavo's 26-year-old wife, Terri, had suddenly - and as yet inexplicably - suffered a loss of potassium in her body that caused her heart to stop beating. She was rushed to the hospital.

She has been in a coma ever since.

Efforts to bring Mrs. Schiavo out of her coma have become a community crusade.

The city of St. Petersburg Beach passed a resolution Tuesday declaring Feb. 17, 1991, as Terri Schiavo Day. On that day, volunteers plan to conduct a huge beach party to raise money to help pay for an experimental operation that, according to Dr. David Baras, medical director of Bayfront Rehabilitation Center, is Mrs. Schiavo's "last hope."

"The prognosis is poor. Fair at best" without any further treatment, Baras said. "This (surgery) is brand new. It's experimental. It's sort of like our last chance."

Members of the Vina Del Mar Civic Association also have asked city officials if they can name one of the new dune walkovers in Mrs. Schiavo's honor. They hope to raise money by having people buy individual planks on the walkover to be engraved with either their own name or the name of someone they wish to honor.

The operation will be performed by Dr. Yoshio Hosobuchi of the University of California at San Francisco later this month. According to Mrs. Schiavo's family, expenses for the trip to California, operation and subsequent rehabilitation will cost at least $100,000.

Mary Schindler, Mrs. Schiavo's mother, said the family is being permitted to make an initial down payment for the procedure and pay the balance as they can.

Mrs. Schiavo is being cared for at College Harbor nursing facility. Schiavo and Mrs. Schindler said they tried to care for her at home, but because Mrs. Schiavo has a tube in her stomach and is catheterized, they found the task too much for them to handle. They visit her daily.

The fight to bring Terri out of her coma also is being fought in the legal arena. Schiavo recently filed his second lawsuit against the Prudential Insurance Co. of America. Mrs. Schiavo worked for Prudential and was insured by the company. Schiavo's first lawsuit over benefits was settled in July.

Among other things, the latest suit, filed Monday, contends that Mrs. Schiavo is entitled to long-term nursing care.

"Prudential has taken the position that family should take care of those needs after a week of training. We don't think that meets terms of the contract," said Roland Lamb, Schiavo's attorney.

Mrs. Schiavo's family is paying about $3,000 a month for her care at College Harbor, Schiavo said.

Jeff Kovalesky, director of group operations with Prudential, said Wednesday he was not aware of the latest suit and declined to comment further. He said the terms of the earlier settlement prevent both parties from discussing Mrs. Schiavo's condition or benefits publicly.

Lamb said Prudential will not help pay the cost of Mrs. Schiavo's upcoming surgery because it is experimental.

Dr. Raj Narayan, associate professor of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine, said he is familiar with Hosobuchi's work and confirmed the experimental nature of the proposed surgery.

"There has been very little done with it in the U.S. Most of the experience has been in Japan and Europe," he said. The procedure has been performed on 120 patients worldwide, he said. Thirty percent showed some improvement, he said, adding that the operation is considered risky.

Narayan, chairman of the joint section on neurotrauma for the American Association of Neurological Surgery, said Hosobuchi is "a well-known and well-respected figure in the field."

Editor's note: A later article reported that Schiavo had surgery to implant a "brain stimulator."

That story reported: "Mrs. Schiavo is slowly emerging from the coma at the Mediplex Medical Center, a neurological care center in Bradenton, (Michael Schiavo) said. She will undergo at least a year of speech, occupational and physical therapy."

- Word for Word is an occasional feature excerpting passages of interest from books, magazines, Web sites and other sources. The text may be edited for space but the original spelling, grammar and punctuation are unchanged.

[Last modified March 23, 2005, 14:15:38]

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