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DCF found no signs Terri Schiavo abused

People's complaints included reports that she had suspicious needle marks and an infection around her feeding tube.

By GRAHAM BRINK
Published April 16, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - State investigators found no signs that Terri Schiavo was being abused during several inquiries from 2001 to 2004, according to records released Friday.

The Florida Department of Children & Families logged 89 complaints over those years that claimed Schiavo, who resided in a hospice in Pinellas Park, had a variety of problems caused by abuse, including bed sores, suspicious needle marks and broken bones.

In response to the claims, department investigators made unannounced visits to the hospice. They concluded that Schiavo was in good condition, given her circumstances.

"(There are) no indicators of medical neglect or exploitation," wrote one state investigator. "All of (Schiavo's) medical needs to keep her from imminent harm are being met."

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge George Greer ordered the state to release the reports after several news organizations, including the St. Petersburg Times, sued to have the records opened.

Schiavo, whom doctors said was in a persistent vegetative state after she collapsed in 1990, received worldwide attention when her feeding tube was removed last month. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, supported removing the tube. He had battled with her family for years over whether she would want to live, given her condition. She died March 31.

Over the years, DCF received dozens of complaints about Schiavo's treatment. Many flooded in when her feeding tube was removed on two previous occasions, in 2001 and 2003. Both of those times, the tube was ordered reinserted.

The complainants either called DCF anonymously or their names were blacked out in the reports, making it difficult to determine their level of participation in the case. One woman admitted to an investigator that she made her complaint after reading about the case in an Internet chat room. She had never seen Schiavo in person.

The general theme of the complaints was that Michael Schiavo or hospice workers were purposefully withholding medical treatment or physically abusing Terri Schiavo.

In the reports released Friday, complainants reported that Terri Schiavo had suspicious needle marks, an infection around her feeding tube and an untreated bed sore.

The state investigators found no evidence of needle marks or an infection. An ulcer on Schiavo's skin appeared to have been treated and healed, an investigator stated.

One of the complainants told the DCF that Michael Schiavo was injecting his wife with something, possibly insulin, to hasten her death. Several complainants said Mr. Schiavo asked workers at the hospice several times, "Is the b--ch ever going to die" or words to that effect.

The investigator wrote that nine years of medical records showed no signs of any problems with Mrs. Schiavo's glucose levels, which would be affected if she was receiving insulin injections. The investigator added that the staff at the hospice said Michael Schiavo was "always courteous and is rarely alone with the patient."

Investigators also looked into allegations that Terri Schiavo had suspiciously broken bones and poor dental health. Two doctors who reviewed Schiavo's bone scans told an investigator that it was common for patients such as Schiavo, suffering from degenerative bone loss and ossification, to sustain fractures from being turned or from therapy.

As for the dental care, a doctor stated that a routine exam and X-rays would cause "major distress" to Mrs. Schiavo. It would require sedation and lift equipment to postion Schiavo for the exam, the doctor said. There also could be problems with aspiration, as Schiavo could not swallow, the investigator stated.

The records released Friday do not include reports about the 30 calls to the state's abuse hot line in the last few weeks before Schiavo died. The state still has an open investigation into those calls.

David Gibbs, the attorney for her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, questioned whether a more thorough investigation should have been done. The DCF reports sounded alike, as if the investigators didn't go the extra step, he said.

"If doctors are tasked with the care of a person and the question is asked "Is she getting proper care?' they are clearly going to defend the actions they took," Gibbs said. "That's why you need independent people to look at the case."

Graham Brink can be reached at 727 893-8406 or brink@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 16, 2005, 01:21:18]


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