Schiavo kin tell of ordeal in book

Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings repeat old charges against Michael Schiavo, but add personal details of a painful 15 years.

Published March 14, 2006

The parents and siblings of Terri Schiavo fought for years to keep her alive, sometimes suffering in front of television cameras before the entire nation, sometimes collapsing in their homes in private anguish.

Now, for the first time, members of the Schindler family have shared their pain in a book, which is set to hit stores March 28.

In A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo - A Lesson for Us All , family members once again accuse Terri's husband Michael of abusing her, and blast judges for overlooking evidence that might have kept her alive.

But it also tells the story of a family in a nightmare, as the Schindlers cope first with the collapse of Terri, who suffered severe brain damage after her heart stopped mysteriously in 1990, and then with the possibility of losing her altogether.

The book was written by Terri's parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, as well as Terri's brother, Bobby, and sister, Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo, with help from a professional author.

In the first week after Schiavo collapsed from a cause that has never been pinpointed, Bob Schindler found himself "in the hospital morgue at 3 a.m., having lost his way in a search for a cup of coffee - "eerie and creepy' he called it."

Fifteen years later, the Schindlers felt grateful for those who carried their battle into the courts, the Florida Legislature and the halls of Congress, but were just as bewildered to find themselves in such a media circus.

"To our amazement, people came up to ask for our autographs, as if we were celebrities," Schiavo's mother wrote, describing memorial services after her daughter's death.

She added in a footnote: "But all we did was fight for our daughter's life. Why does that make us celebrities?"

Most of the harshest allegations in the book, such as a claim that Michael Schiavo may have hurt his wife, had previously been raised in court records or hearings.

The book portrays Michael Schiavo, who said Terri would have wanted her feeding tube removed in such a condition, as controlling, mercurial and violent.

Bobby says Michael once pushed him on a couch "and had me with his hand around my throat."

Suzanne says, "I would see bruises on Terri and she would always brush them off as horseplay."

The book also alleges there were discrepancies in Michael's account of the sequence of events at the time of her death and asks rhetorically if he was "trying to revive Terri by himself? Panicking because he had fought with his wife and she had collapsed? We don't know and probably never will know."

Schiavo's brother Brian said Monday the claims in the books were "embellishments."

"We're not surprised by it and not moved by it," he said.

"At this point, personally I think it's a monetary issue (to sell the book). Some of the stuff, a lot of this stuff, has been heard in court. They have all been found to be unfounded."

Most of the book is told in the voice of Mary Schindler, who freely admits her naivete of the world of high-stakes court and political battles.

She wrote that she was amazed at her family's attorney in an early court case acknowledging that her daughter was in a "persistent vegetative state," a diagnosis the Schindlers would later go to great lengths to dispute.

"But that's half our case! We wanted to scream."

The attorney, Pamela Campbell, said in an interview Monday that she "did the very best that I could with the assets and access that we had to Terri. I, too am saddened by the results of the Schiavo case, however."

One of the themes of the book is that Terri Schiavo was alert and capable of responding to others, in contrast to testimony of doctors whose diagnoses formed the basis of the court opinions allowing the removal of her feeding tube.

The book quotes observations of attorney Barbara Weller, who visited Terri three times between December 2004 and March 2005.

At one point Weller said "Terri, if you could only say "I want to live,' this whole thing would be over today."

Ad then to Weller's "enormous shock and surprise, Terri's eyes opened wide, she looked me square in the face, and with a look of great concentration, she said "Ahhhhhh."'

And then she yelled "Waaaaaaaa," and then developed an anguished look and began to cry.

"I promised Terri I would tell the world that she had tried to say, "I want to live,"' Weller wrote.

The Schindlers have devoted themselves to a foundation they created to try to prevent other families from entering the Kafkaesque reality they describe in their book.

"I felt I was living in a parallel world, where a different language - legalese - spoke a set of incomprehensible rules," Mary Schindler wrote.

"I felt no connection to this world, yet knew that Terri's fate would be decided by those rules."