tampabay.com

Parents endure, cling to hope

Like Terri Schiavo, Lisa Watson collapsed in her home. But their stories have differed since.

By MELANIE AVE
Published March 26, 2005


LAKELAND - The lives of the two women are eerily similar.

They look alike, with their short, dark brown hair and rigid arms and legs. Both were in their 20s when their hearts gave out, and they suffered brain-damage. Neither woman left a written living will. Their families met when both women were in the same Bradenton rehabilitation center.

But their paths have diverged sharply.

Terri Schiavo's husband continues to fight efforts by her parents to overturn a court order that removed her feeding tube on March 18. Michael Schiavo said he is carrying out his wife's wishes, that she would not want to live in a persistent vegetative state.

Lisa Watson's husband, Matt, divorced his wife and gave custody of her to her parents about two years after she became incapacitated in 1991. A heart problem following childbirth caused brain damage.

Dorothy Brocato, 74, and her husband Michael, 78, care for their daughter, with the help of nurses, around the clock in their home on a golf course a few miles north of Interstate 4.

"I had a lot of people who helped me think through things," Matt Watson told WTSP-Ch. 10 in an interview. "Mostly, you have a sense of guilt that goes with the difficult decision you have to make, it can cause self-doubt."

"It hurt at first," said Dorothy Brocato. "But then I thought, he's a young guy. He had a new baby. He couldn't take care of her, too."

Matt Watson has since remarried and lives in Atlanta. He brings the couple's son, a teenager now, to visit Lisa and the Brocatos several times a year.

"I would counsel anybody dealing with this, discuss these things and handle the legal things earlier and ahead of time, so then you don't have to deal with them when you're in a situation like this," Watson told WTSP.

The Brocatos have great respect for their former son-in-law for allowing them to keep Lisa, who is fed through a tube in her stomach as Terri Schiavo was before it was removed. They can't help but wonder why Michael Schiavo couldn't do the same for Bob and Mary Schindler.

The Brocatos got so upset about the dwindling legal options the Schindlers face to restore the feeding tube, they decided to speak out in the hope that Michael Schiavo would be moved by their story.

Dorothy Brocato stares at her 37-year-old daughter, her fourth child, her baby.

"Can you smile Lisa? Come on," coos her mother. "Come on."

Lisa watches from a wheelchair. No smile emerges but something flickers in her intense green eyes that makes her mother tear up. "She's aware of everything. She laughs. She smiles. We just don't know how much she knows."

Doctors say Lisa Watson should have a normal life span.

"She's healthy," said Brocato, her stepfather. "You don't starve to death a living, breathing human being. If you starved a dog, you'd go to jail."

Lisa Watson's problems began at age 22. Married for four years, she gave birth to a 9-pound, 15-ounce son, Trevor, by Caesarean section after a difficult labor. Eight days after he was born, she collapsed in her Lakeland home of what was later diagnosed as cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart.

Her husband attempted CPR and called an ambulance, but her heart stopped three times. She was in a coma when her parents arrived at the hospital. They were told she would not survive.

But after a year-long hospital stay, Lisa was transferred to the rehabilitation complex. She was released a year later because her condition stagnated.

That's when Mrs. Brocato decided to bring her daughter home, and her son-in-law agreed. She believes that decision, coupled with regular physical therapy and vitamins improved Lisa's awareness and quality of life. Her mother also believes oxygen treatments in a hyperbaric chamber sparked something in Lisa's brain.

At first, "She was just like Terri," Mrs. Brocato said. "Her head hung down. She just stared at nothing. She drooled."

When asked about Lisa Watson's specific diagnosis, and whether she was in a persistent vegetative state as Terri Schiavo's doctors say she is, Mrs. Brocato could not be specific.

Lisa has a room at the back of the house with tile floors and wide doors for her wheelchair. Nurses give her almost-daily physical therapy and strap her to a table to stand up. The radio and television buzz constantly for stimulation.

"Sometimes when we're asleep, we hear her back there laughing," Mrs. Brocato said. "She feels pain. Sometimes when I break down and cry because my heart is broken, she reacts. She goes ah, ah, ah."

The Brocatos sit Lisa up during the day. In the evenings, the family watches television together. They can't imagine life without her.

The Brocatos said they understand why the Schindlers hang onto the belief that Terri could possibly improve if allowed to live. It's their wish for Lisa as well that rehabilitation and maybe medical technology will return her to normal someday.

"Never give up," Mrs. Brocato says. "I will continue to take care of her as long as I live. I really feel that God had a plan for her life or else he would have taken her."

Says her husband: "There's always hope."

Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 892-2273 or melanie@sptimes.com