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Parents say comatose daughter understands

Their daughter, in a coma for 10 years, "knows who I am," her mother testifies.

By ANITA KUMAR

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2000


Mary Schindler believes her daughter, Terri Schiavo, communicates with her despite lingering in a coma for a decade.

Terri turns her head toward her mom when she enters a room, Mrs. Schindler said. She cries. She moans. She laughs.

Mother and daughter listen to the radio together. They watch TV. And, Mrs. Schindler said, her daughter sometimes looks at her when she sits by her bed each week telling her family stories.

"I believe she understands," Mrs. Schindler said Tuesday. "I truly believe she knows who I am."

Mrs. Schindler said Terri, 36, has improved since 1990 when she lapsed into a coma from an inexplicable loss of potassium. She insists her daughter may get better. That's why she and her husband, Bob, are in a Pinellas County courtroom this week fighting to keep her alive.

Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, is asking Judge George Greer to allow him to remove his wife's feeding tube, ensuring she would die in a couple of weeks.

Three doctors have testified that Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state," and now the judge must decide whether the woman would have wanted to prolong her life by artificial means.

The trial will resume today, but Greer will not make a decision immediately. His ruling also will help determine who receives a $700,000 malpractice settlement.

Mrs. Schindler testified Tuesday that her daughter had told her a couple of times before the coma -- while watching TV and talking about sick relatives -- that she wanted to live as long as she could.

That directly contradicts Michael Schiavo's testimony.

Schiavo said his wife told him several times she would not want to be kept on life support. His brother, Scott, and sister-in-law, Joan, also said Terri Schiavo told them the same thing in the years before the 1990 accident.

The Schindlers say their son-in-law never brought up the topic until they had a falling-out in 1993 and began litigation. Before then, her parents and her husband agreed to keep Terri Schiavo on life support.

Richard Pearse Jr., an attorney appointed by the court to recommend a solution in the case, filed a report suggesting Terri Schiavo be kept on a feeding tube. In his report, Pearse questions Michael Schiavo's credibility.

Schiavo aggressively pursued treatment for his wife for years after her accident, Pearse said. But about the time a jury awarded the couple $1-million in a malpractice suit Schiavo decided not to pursue treatment, he said.

If his wife dies, Schiavo stands to inherit as much as $700,000 and would be free to marry his fiance of four years. He declined to comment this week.

His attorney George Felos said Schiavo has never filed for divorce because he doesn't want his wife's parents to have authority to keep her on life support indefinitely.

Felos will argue today that Pearse is biased and should not have been appointed because he personally is opposed to feeding tubes being removed.

Both Terri Schiavo's parents and her husband have accused each other of wanting to control her fate to get their hands on the $700,000 from the malpractice suit that was supposed to pay for her medical bills.

Each side has denied a financial motive. Mrs. Schindler did testify that Schiavo told her he would share any money from the suit with her and her husband. She said he did not do that or pay back money owed to the couple.

Terri Schiavo collapsed at her home the morning of Feb. 25, 1990. Her heart stopped beating and she was deprived of oxygen for five minutes.

She has not awakened since and currently lives in Palm Gardens nursing home in Largo.

Family members say doctors never discovered why she suffered the loss of potassium that caused a heart attack. Despite several theories no one has given the family a clear answer.

The doctors insist Terri Schiavo will not get better. Her parents disagree.

Their attorney, Pamela Campbell, showed the judge a short videotape filmed Saturday at the nursing home in which she said Terri Schiavo cries and moans after seeing and hearing her mother.

Mrs. Schindler, who broke down several times during more than three hours of testimony Tuesday, said her daughter could wake up. She cites the case of Patti White Bull, a 42-year-old New Mexico woman, who awoke from a coma in December after 16 years. "I just want people to see what I see," Mrs. Schindler said.

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