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Family says marriage unhappy before coma


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2000

As Terri Schiavo lay in a coma, her family and friends testified in court this week that she had grown frustrated with her husband in the months before her 1990 accident and considered divorce.

They portrayed Michael Schiavo as a controlling man who restricted the distance his wife could drive, dictated her friends and became angry about money she spent on her hair.

Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have tried to cast doubt on Schiavo's credibility during the trial to determine whether they can stop their son-in-law from removing his wife's feeding tube.

But Schiavo testified Thursday that he and his wife, 36, had a solid marriage and that the night before she lapsed into a coma she told him, "I love you."

"Terri and I had a very loving marriage," he said. "Terri never ever mentioned divorce."

He flatly denied he tried to control his wife. "Of course not," he said. "Why would I? She was free to come and go as she pleased."

Mrs. Schiavo's mother and sister disagree.

Mrs. Schindler and Suzanne Carr said Mrs. Schiavo also was unhappy with her 5-year-old marriage because Schiavo didn't do his share of work.

Mrs. Schiavo would plead with her husband not to quit a job he disliked because of the couple's financial problems, testified Jackie Rhodes, Mrs. Schiavo's friend and co-worker. But Schiavo did quit, leaving her to support them, Rhodes said.

Terri Schiavo collapsed at her St. Petersburg 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 now lives in Palm Gardens nursing home in Largo.

The Schindlers insist their daughter has improved since 1990 and can now communicate with her mother through crying, laughing and moaning. They have hope she will awaken, but doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state and will never get better.

Family members say doctors never discovered why she suffered the loss of potassium that caused her heart attack. Despite several theories, including one that she suffered from an eating disorder, no one has a clear answer.

Diane Meyer, one of Mrs. Schiavo's best friends after high school, said she warned Schiavo twice that Terri did not eat much. Schiavo denies that.

The Schindlers and Schiavo have been feuding since 1993 when a fight almost broke out in Mrs. Schiavo's nursing home between her husband and father. Schiavo threw books, pushed a table and starting coming after Schindler until his wife intervened, Schindler said.

Schiavo says the argument arose because he did not give them some of the $1-million he and his wife received in a malpractice suit. The Schindlers say it was because Schiavo stopped seeking medical treatment for his wife.

The trial will wrap up in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court today, but it could be weeks before Judge George Greer makes a decision. He must first decide whether Mrs. Schiavo, who did not write a living will, would have wanted to prolong her life by artificial means.

Schiavo said his wife told him several times she would not want to be kept on life support. His brother, Scott, and the wife of another brother also said Mrs. Schiavo told them the same thing.

The Schindlers say they don't believe that and wonder why Schiavo never mentioned it until 1998, after his wife had spent eight years in a coma.

The parents testified their daughter never talked to them about life support. But, they and Meyer said, Mrs. Schiavo supported placing her grandmother on a ventilator and opposed Karen Ann Quinlan's parents, who gained national attention in the 1970s when fighting to remove their daughter from life support.

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