Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Now Revised: Complete With Part Two!

Schindlers Respond to Schiavo's Larry King Love-Fest

[ For those readers who have already read Part I, scroll down to "Part II" ]

Sorry to miss posting an update yesterday. It was kind of a crazy day, with more things to do than I had time to do them, including travelling, which limits my access to the Internet.

I watched the whole Larry King interview with Michael Schiavo Monday night, and I took note of a number of issues he addressed which didn't seem consistent with things that either Terri's family told me, or that I had read.

While Michael was on Larry King, Terri's father Bob Schindler was on Hannity & Colmes, so he didn't see the interview. Terri's mother Mary watched the first few minutes, but she said she turned it off because she couldn't stand to watch Michael lie on TV.

I questioned Bob and Mary about several of the claims that Michael made on the Larry King show, and they had quite a bit to say in response.

CNN trumpeted their interview with Michael Schiavo Monday night as an "Exclusive". I guess that means that Bob & Mary Schindler's response, which I present to you here, is also an "Exclusive!".

Part I

I started off by asking them, "Michael claimed that after he won his settlement, you confronted him in Terri's room at the nursing home, and demanded money. Is that true?" Bob replied categorically that that is not what happened that day. "I never asked him for money, ever," Bob said. Bob admits that he got into an argument with Michael that day, but it was over Michael's promise to use Terri's settlement money for rehabilitation.

Bob and Mary had gone to visit Terri, and found Michael sitting in her room at the nursing home, reading a book. After some small talk, Bob said to Michael, "We can use some of that money now to take Terri to Shands [the Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville] for rehab." Bob explained to me that the doctor who oversaw Terri's treatment in California, a Dr. Youngling [Bob isn't sure of the spelling], recommended that they take her to Shands. Michael alluded to this treatment in his Larry King interview, saying that the attempts to stimulate Terri using implants didn't work. Bob and Mary confirm that those treatments didn't work as hoped, but that the doctor had nonetheless observed some improvement in Terri's condition, and he recommended they take her to Shands for a different course of treatment. Bob had wanted to bring her to Shands right away, but Michael insisted on waiting to do so until after he received a settlement.

Michael received the settlement in January of '93, and this confrontation took place in February. "A month had gone by since he [Michael] had gotten the money, and he hadn't done anything yet," Bob explained, nor had Michael said anything about what he planned to do.

Mary said that Michael appeared to ignore Bob, so Bob repeated his remark. At this point, Mary said, "Michael looked up, threw his book against the wall, then he stood up and kicked the tray table by Terri's bed, and went into the hall." The Schindlers followed him into the hall, and Bob, angry at this point, reminded Michael that he had "promised to use the money for Terri's rehab." Michael then ran down the hall, turned back and yelled at Bob and Mary, "I'm going to call my lawyer, and you'll never see your daughter again." At this point Michael's lawyer was not George Felos. Felos only became involved once Michael sought Terri's death.

Bob repeated to me that he has never asked Michael for any of Terri's settlement money. He said, "I tried to remind him of his promise." A promise, Mary added, that Michael had made under oath. This promise may not be legally binding, but the Schindlers certainly regard it as morally binding.

About a month after this incident, the Schindlers were informed that Michael had cut off their access to Terri's medical information. Terri's doctors and nurses were not to discuss Terri's medical condition with the Schindlers. Bob & Mary are still denied access to medical information about their daughter.

They learned later that shortly after this, Michael gave a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order for Terri. This struck the Schindlers as odd, since Terri was in no danger of death. Also, up to this point Michael had yet to say anything about Terri's supposed wish not be kept alive in her condition.

The nursing home staff was sympathetic to the Schindlers, and frequently gave them information in spite of Michael's medical "gag order." In July of that year, Bob & Mary were told that Terri had a serious urinary tract infection. The nursing home staff also told them that Michael had ordered the nursing home not to treat the infection, which treatment would have consisted of a simple course of antibiotics. The staff were worried, because left untreated, the infection would eventually cause sepsis and Terri's death. Bob and Mary were powerless to do anything, but fortunately the nursing home eventually gave the antibiotics anyway, and Terri recovered.

At this point, Bob & Mary made their first attempt to have Michael removed as guardian. In his deposition for this proceeding, Michael admitted that he had ordered the nursing home to deny Terri treatment for the infection, and that left untreated, the infection would have caused Terri's death. Bob and Mary then explained that when asked in the deposition if he would do something like that again, he said he couldn't "because the law prevented him from acting in that way." When asked why he did it, he responded that he "didn't think Terri would want to live like this." Notice that Michael said he didn't think so. Bob said, "he had the perfect opportunity there to talk about Terri's 'wish' not to be kept alive, and he didn't." In fact, it was another 5 years before they heard anything about Terri's supposed wish not to be kept alive.

The judge denied the Schindler's petition to have Michael removed as guardian. 3 years later (1996), they tried again to have Michael removed as guardian, and were again refused. This in spite of testimony from the administrator of Terri's second nursing home that Michael had given similar orders to them to deny potentially life-saving treatment to Terri. Fortunately, that nursing home also decided to go against Michael's wishes and administered appropriate medications.

I would add that this was not the last of Michael's attempts to cause Terri's death by denying medication for perfectly treatable ailments. When Terri developed pneumonia earlier this year, Michael's attorney George Felos asked the judge if medication could be denied to Terri for the pneumonia. He wanted her to be removed from the hospital, returned to the hospice, and "allowed" to die "naturally". Fortunately, even Judge Greer thought this beyond the pale and ordered her treatment continued.

I also asked Bob and Mary about Michael's claim that Bob had offered him $700,000 to walk away and let them take care of Terri. Bob admitted that after Terri's feeding tube was restored the first time, he did offer Michael money, but that it was more like $500,000. Bob explained, "that was our attorney's idea [at that time their attorney was Jim Eckert]. He thought that since Michael was after Terri's money, let's give him what he wants to make him go away." I asked Bob and Mary how they intended to come up with the money. Bob replied, "we didn't know. Jim [their lawyer] thought we could raise the money somehow, but first we had to get Michael to agree to the idea." I asked him if any pro-life or other "right-wing" group ever offered him money for that purpose. He laughed and said no, nothing like that ever happened.

Furthermore, as to the contention that the Schindlers are being put up to their defense of Terri's life by "right-wing" pro-life groups, Bob & Mary Schindler dismiss it as ridiculous. "The first offers of assistance we got from national pro-life or conservative groups was about two weeks ago", Bob said. Furthermore, the assistance offered was in terms of organization and mobilizing grass-roots support, not financial support. "We actually approached a couple of organizations back in 2000 after the first trial", Bob added, "but they weren't interested in getting involved at that time."

Indeed, the Schindlers have fought for more than a decade with little more than their own resources and some local help. After the first trial in 2000, "Professionals For Excellence", a local organization of conservative professionals, offered some help, and since then have occasionally contributed the expertise of their members in publicity, legal opinions, and other organizational assistance. According to Bob, Pat Anderson, their lead attoney, has worked on Terri's case largely pro bono with some occasional grants from legal foundations.

The Schindlers started the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation to get the word out about Terri's plight and to raise money to help defray the considerable expenses they have incurred in their efforts to save her. In the past three years, Bob Schindler estimates that the foundation has raised "about $40,000." "In addition to that," Bob continued, "Msgr. Malanowski [the priest who has been offering spiritual support and guidance to the family for the past few years] raised about another $10,000."

Far from being well-financed pawns of "right-wing" groups and pro-lifers, Bob and Mary have been crying out for years to get someone to listen to them, someone to help them. Finally, within the last few weeks, they've begun to be heard, and there has been an outpouring of support for which they're truly grateful.

Part II

Michael Schiavo went into some detail on Larry King describing the circumstances of the injury which caused Terri to be in her present state. Michael claimed that he woke up in the middle of the night, then heard a loud thud. He went out into the hall, he said, and saw Terri lying in the hallway. She was, he said, unconscious. Michael then stated that he called Terri's brother Bobby, who lived in the same apartment complex as Terri and Michael. He then said that Bobby told him to call 911 and that he would come over. Michael claimed that he was holding Terri in his arms when Bobby arrived. The paramedics arrived a short time later and began to try to revive her. I asked the Schindlers how his account meshed with what they knew happened at the time.

Bob Schindler replied "that isn't what happened at all. What happened was that Michael called us first, and I answered the phone. He told me that Terri had collapsed and was unconscious. I told him to call 911. Then I called Bobby and told him to get over there. I said 'something's going on over there, get over there right now.'" Bob also said that Michael's claim that he was holding Terri in his arms was untrue. "When Bobby arrived at their place," Bob explained, "he found Terri lying face down in the hallway, with her feet over the threshold of the doorway, as though she had been coming out of the bedroom. Her hands were clutched around her throat, and her breathing was gurgling. Michael was sitting on the couch in the living room; he was a total basket case."

Michael also said on "Larry King Live" that Terri was bulimic prior to that night, and that her bulimia was possibly the cause of the potassium imbalance which was discovered when she was in the hospital. Bob & Mary also find this assertion incredible. Bob's reaction was "Poppycock!" Terri, they said, was quite healthy and had a healthy appetite prior to her injury. None of her friends or family ever saw any signs of any eating disorder, and there was no medical evidence of it found in her examinations.

This "potassium imbalance" is frequently touted as the explanation of what caused Terri's collapse. But it is an explanation that explains nothing. Indeed, doctors for the Schindlers testified in court, and reiterated at their news conference last Friday (October 24, 2003) that the potassium imbalance was only detected after she was brought to the hospital. This is after the paramedics had been working on her to revive her. Part of such treatment is the injection of various drugs and electrolytes to try to stimulate the heart. These injections were very likely the cause of the potassium imbalance. The potassium imbalance was an effect of her collapse and subsequent treatment, and not the cause of anything.

Terri's heart stopped for several minutes that night, and that stoppage caused the brain damage that led to her current condition. It is frequently asserted in press accounts that Terri had a "heart attack." This too is false. There was no heart attack, and again, doctors have testified to that effect. A heart attack causes the release of certain enzymes into the bloodstream. These enzymes are readily discovered in tests and are used as the "markers" of a heart attack. No such enzymes were found in Terri's bloodstream, nor any other evidence of a heart attack. Terri's heart was and is quite healthy: there was no heart attack.

So what happened to cause Terri to lose consciousness? No one is sure, because there was never a proper investigation. The Schindlers do not accept Michael's version of what happened to Terri. Also, Bob related, "it's in the medical record that when Terri was brought into the hospital she had bruises around her neck." Doctors for the Schindlers have testified that those bruises were consistent with manual strangulation. Furthermore, skull x-rays and head CT scans done about a year after her injury indicated fractures to the occipital region which have never been explained. These fractures are consistent with trauma to the head.

The theory that Terri was strangled gains plausibility when one considers that friends and siblings of Terri's testified that they were aware that Michael had abused Terri prior to the night of her injury. Bob & Mary were not aware of this themselves before Terri's injury. "I found out afterwards," Bob said, "that they [Terri's friends and brother] had been keeping that from me." But, Bob, explained, Terri's best friend, Jackie Rhoades, testified at the 1996 guardianship hearing that she knew Terri was being abused, that she frequently saw her with bruises on her arms and legs, and that Terri was afraid of Michael. Jackie further stated that Terri intended to divorce Michael, and that she and Terri were making plans to do that. Terri's brother Bobby also testified to his knowledge of Terri's abuse, and corroborated much of Jackie's testimony.

These allegations and the evidence behind them have been brought to court in the Schindlers' suits to have Michael removed as guardian, but have never been properly investigated. Judge Greer dismissed these allegations with a wave of his judicial wand, saying that "it would be interesting to know what happened," but that it was "irrelevant to this case." Judge Greer disregarded Jackie's and Bobby's testimony, saying that it was hearsay. That ruling will prove to be interesting in light of the judge's ruling regarding other secondhand testimony in this case.

On the Larry King Show, Michael also contended that he was not after Terri's settlement money. As evidence of this he said that he had offered three times to give that money to charity. Bob and Mary Schindler confirm that he did make such an offer, but only once. During the first effort to remove Terri's feeding tube, in 1998, the Schindlers received a letter from Michael's lawyer George Felos containing the offer. But that offer, they explained, was contingent on their agreement to remove Terri's feeding tube. "He said he'd give the money away if I agreed to kill my daughter," Bob explained. He added that the letter stipulated that the offer to give the money away was off the table after 10 days.

Why, I asked, did Michael make such an odd proposal? "Well, that's interesting," Bob answered. "See, the court appointed a guardian ad litem to determine Michael's fitness as guardian. His name was Richard Pearse. Pearse said that Michael had a conflict of interest as guardian because he stood to inherit the money in Terri's fund if Terri died. Pearse said that Michael couldn't be impartial in his decisions." "So," Bob continued, "that offer and the letter was Felos' attempt to remove the appearance of conflict."

Mr. Pearse, in his role as guardian ad litem, also found that Michael's testimony regarding Terri's purported wish not to live if she required artificial support was "not credible." So what happened to the perspicacious Mr. Pearse, as a result of his observing Michael's obvious conflict of interest and the flimsiness of his story regarding Terri's wishes? He was removed as guardian ad litem by Judge Greer, at Felos' request.

Michael has repeatedly asserted that he so doggedly pursues Terri's death because he is trying to "honor her wishes", because he loves her. Michael asserts that he heard Terri voice this wish while watching a television show that involved a person in a vegetative state. I asked Bob & Mary about this "wish" of Terri's. "She never said anything like that", Mary answered. "Not to any of us." When was the first time you ever heard about this wish, I asked. "It was in 1998," Bob replied, "during the first trial" [to remove Terri's feeding tube]. "We never heard anything about that before." The reader will recall that Michael had an opportunity to explain that "wish" during the 1993 court proceedings, but for some reason did not.

But, I asked, Michael said that his story has been corroborated. And some defenders of Michael emphasize that the court found his testimony "clear and convincing". What about that? "What the court found so convincing," Bob replied, "was that Michael brought out his brother and sister-in-law, and they corroborated him. And Felos brought them out at the last minute, shortly before the trial. They weren't on the original witness list. Felos blindsided us."

I was, frankly, astonished. I'm no lawyer, but I know enough to find that somewhat irregular. Didn't your lawyer object? I asked. "Oh, yeah, Bob said. "She objected all over the place. They weren't on the witness list, and they were never deposed before the trial, but the judge allowed them in."

You'll recall that Judge Greer disallowed the testimony of Jackie Rhoades and Bobby Schindler regarding Terri's abuse, because it was hearsay. But Michael's testimony, and that of his never-deposed brother and sister-in-law, were allowed in, and found "clear and convincing". It would seem that in Judge Greer's courtroom, some kinds of hearsay are more convincing than others.

Michael has repeatedly avowed his continuing love for Terri. He did so again on "Larry King Live". Bob & Mary find his love of a rather strange variety. "If he loved her so much," Mary said, "he could start by keeping his marriage vows to her," obviously referring to Michael's live-in girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children. Furthermore, they find his protestations of love unbelievable in light of his almost total neglect of her. "In the beginning he used to visit her a lot," Mary told me. "But after '93, he visited less and less often."

Bob related that while he was still working [he is now retired], he used to visit Terri at the nursing home "once or twice a week" on his way home from work. He and Mary, he added, visited Terri together on the weekends. "We never saw him at the nursing home," Mary said, "and he was never listed on the sign-in sheet."

Nursing home staff complained to the Schindlers that they could never reach Michael. "They needed to talk to him about things concerning her care," Bob said. "But they'd leave messages and he didn't call back." The director of Terri's second nursing home, David Cross, testified in the 1996 guardianship hearing that he "had a difficult time" with Michael. The state, Bob explained to me, requires that nursing home administrators have monthly meetings with family representatives regarding patient care. Mr. Cross testified that Michael never asked for or came to such meetings, and that created problems for the nursing home's compliance with the law. Cross also testified that Michael never made arrangements for state-required annual physicals either, forcing the nursing home to arrange them itself.

Bob and Mary assert that since 2000, Michael has rarely visited Terri. "The only time he visits Terri," Bob said, "is when a hearing is coming up, and then Felos stages a visit so Michael can say in court that he visited her recently."

I wondered if Michael didn't visit Terri because he feels like he has "moved on" with his life. Larry King asked Michael why he didn't just move on, why he didn't just divorce Terri and marry his girlfriend. Michael said that he's "content with the way things are," with his girlfriend. He told Larry he had no plans to marry her.

"Right," Bob said in an ironic tone. "He said under oath at the 2000 trial that as soon as Terri died, he would marry his girlfriend."