tampabay.com

Athletic, peaceful, he won her heart

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published April 1, 2005


To understand Michael Schiavo, his family says, you need to understand his father.

William Schiavo contracted polio at age 12 and was told he might never walk again. But this was a man who never backed down, relatives say, a man who never let someone tell him an obstacle couldn't be overcome.

Six years later, William Schiavo won a professional contract to play minor league baseball for a Philadelphia team.

"He wasn't going to accept that he wouldn't walk," said Scott Schiavo, the oldest of William Schiavo's five sons. "He was like, "You put your mind to something, and you do it. Get it done.' "

Karen Schiavo said it isn't surprising to anyone in the family that Michael Schiavo, her brother-in-law and the youngest of the Schiavo boys, takes after his father.

"All five of them are alike," she said. "If they believe in something, they go 100 percent."

Michael Schiavo, now 41, grew up the son of a stay-at-home mother and a father who, after his baseball dream ended, worked as an associate safety engineer for a utility company. All the boys were big, strapping sons who played hard.

It was a close-knit clan, one in which the sons' wives would be sent birthday cards from Schiavo's late mother. "The cards would be for a daughter-in-law, but she would cross out "in law,' " Karen Schiavo said.

All the sons were athletic. Michael Schiavo played on the tennis team at Woodrow Wilson High School in Levittown, Pa., just outside Philadelphia.

But "sports wasn't his forte," Scott Schiavo said. "He wasn't a very aggressive person. He was more like, "Let's talk about it,' than running into each other."

Karen Schiavo said Michael was "a little bit different than the other guys. Calm, peaceful."

Schiavo met his future wife in a class at Bucks County Community College. The pair were engaged a year before marrying in 1984. They moved to Florida two years later. "We were over the cold," Schiavo later said. "We wanted something new."

After his wife's collapse on Feb. 25, 1990, Schiavo spent days and nights in the intensive care unit by her side.

Later, he helped raise money for her care, even selling hot dogs on the beach to raise funds.

At a medical malpractice trial in 1992, Michael Schiavo, fighting tears, told jurors he wanted to care for his wife as long as he could.

"I believe in the vows that I took with my wife, through sickness, in health, for richer or poorer," Schiavo testified. "I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I'm going to do that."

Those words would be used against him in later years, especially when he petitioned the courts to remove his wife's feeding tube.

Schiavo, a registered nurse who works at the Pinellas County Jail, now lives with another woman and has two children with her. Protesters often gather outside their Clearwater home.

In a March 15 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Schiavo said the Christian right has used his wife to push a political agenda.

"It's all those people who are afraid to die," Schiavo said.

He said he has never forsaken his wife, no matter what her family and protesters think.

"Terri will always have a part of my heart," Michael Schiavo said. "She'll always be in there."