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Emergency motion
in right-to-die case

Posted By Diana Lynne On 11/14/2002 @ 2:45 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled

The attorney fighting a husband’s efforts to remove the feeding tube from his brain-damaged wife filed an emergency motion yesterday to delay a court ruling while she develops new medical evidence.

The report of a total-body bone scan done on Terri Schindler-Schiavo, while she was in a rehabilitation facility following the collapse that led to her brain damage, describes what are known as “hot spots” suggestive of multiple fractures. In the words of an unnamed physician who reviewed the report: “Somebody worked her over real good.”

According to the motion, medical records show that Terri has never been evaluated or treated by an orthopedic surgeon for the multiple injuries revealed in the bone scan, which may have a profound bearing on her current medical condition.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Michael Schiavo filed a petition to remove the feeding tube from his 38-year-old wife, maintaining she wouldn’t want to be kept alive through artificial means. Terri’s family disputes the claim and has been fighting a four-year court battle to block his efforts.

Circuit Judge George Greer is scheduled to rule by Nov. 22 on Schiavo’s petition. The removal of Terri’s feeding tube would cause her to die by dehydration and starvation. Greer already ruled in favor of Schiavo in February 2000, and Terri’s feeding tube was removed for three days in April 2001 before a series of appeals put his order on hold.

An appellate court, after affirming Greer’s ruling in one trial, reversed itself and remanded the case back down to the trial court, essentially ordering a new trial to determine Terri’s condition, the availability and efficacy of treatments for her and their acceptance within the medical community.

In that trial, held late last month, medical experts petitioned by Schiavo’s attorney and right-to-die advocate George Felos, as well as a court-appointed neurologist, testified that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state, one of the conditions necessary according to state statute to legally permit the removal of her feeding tube. According to these experts, Terri maintains subcortical and brain stem activity which governs involuntary actions such as respiration, digestion and responses to auditory and visual stimuli.

WND incorrectly reported that Felos is an advocate of euthanasia. Felos stresses he advocates the withdrawal of feeding tubes, but opposes euthanasia, which he defines as “the active intervention of an external agent to end a life” and, as he pointed out, is a criminal act. Further, Felos said he is a staunch supporter of better end-of-life care for patients which he believes will reduce public support for euthanasia and asssisted suicide. WND regrets the error.

Physicians solicited by Pat Anderson, the attorney who represents the Schindlers and who filed the emergency motion, testified Terri shows cognitive function and would benefit from treatment of her condition, which court testimony indicates she hasn’t received since 1993. As evidence of Terri’s cognitive function, Anderson presented videotape in which Terri appears to interact with her mother and follow commands to open and shut her eyes.

There is no written directive from Terri. In the 2000 trial, Greer ruled it was her wish to have the feeding tube removed on the basis of testimony by Schiavo, his brother and sister-in-law that she made “casual statements” to them that she would not want to be kept alive artificially.

“My aim is to carry out Terri’s wishes,” Schiavo told WND. “If Terri would even know that I had somebody taking care of her bodily functions, she’d kill us all in a heartbeat. She’d be so angry,” he added.

Schiavo is engaged and has fathered a child with his fiancee but maintains that has nothing to do with the case.

“I moved on with a part of my life. I’m sorry that the Schindlers can’t move on with any of theirs’,” Schiavo told WND.

Cardiac arrest and malpractice award

Though severely brain-damaged, Terri breathes and maintains a heart beat and blood pressure on her own. She can see and move her limbs. But she needs a feeding tube to sustain her life. Terri has been in this condition since Feb. 25, 1990, when at the age of 26, she suffered cardiac arrest at home and oxygen was cut off to her brain for several minutes.

The cause of the cardiac arrest was determined to be a potassium imbalance, although testimony given in last month’s trial suggests Terri also suffered a neck injury. Neurologist William Hammesfahr, petitioned by Anderson, testified that he’d only seen “this peculiar constellation of injuries,” referencing her rigid neck and cardiac arrest, in a case of attempted strangulation.

“I’ve never been satisfied with any explanation of her collapse,” Anderson told WND. “It has all been loosey-goosey. The theory was that she was bulimic (because her potassium level was low) and that caused cardiac arrhythmia, which led to the cardiac arrest,” she continued.

Schiavo was awarded $630,000 in damages in a malpractice suit in 1992 based on this explanation. Some $1.7 million also was awarded and placed in a medical-care fund for Terri. Schiavo stands to inherit the money upon Terri’s death.

At this point, however, the medical fund is nearly tapped. According to court records, Felos has filed a series of petitions seeking reimbursement for attorney fees totaling $358,434. In July of 1998, shortly after Felos filed Schiavo’s motion to remove the feeding tube, the total in the fund was $718,000. As of last month, $110,000 remained.

WND incorrectly reported that Felos also filed a motion just prior to last month’s trial seeking to have Terri’s cremation and burial expenses paid out of her medical-care fund.

In fact, another attorney representing Schiavo filed the petition.

New medical evidence

Anderson said Hammesfahr’s testimony about the “suspiciously rigid neck” in last month’s trial prompted her to undertake a new examination of the “mountain” of Terri’s medical records. The search uncovered the report of a total-body bone scan done at Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, Fla., in March 1991, 13 months after her collapse.

The report notes a compression fracture of her thigh “which is presumably traumatic.”

Other “areas of nuclide accumulation of intense type,” or “hot spots” as they’re called, are suggestive of fractures in her ribs, the first lumbar vertebra and several thoracic vertebrae, both sacroiliac joints, and both knees and ankles.

The report states, “The patient has a history of trauma.” Physicians who reviewed the report at the request of Anderson conclude Terri was the victim of severe physical abuse.

In testimony given during the 2000 trial, Terri’s girlfriend and co-worker said Terri discussed getting a divorce and moving in with her. She also testified that the couple had a violent argument on the day of Terri’s collapse, which prompted her to urge Terri to not stay at home that night – a suggestion Terri disregarded.

“There are only two people who know what happened that night that she collapsed. And one of them is trying to kill the other who is too disabled to speak,” Anderson told WND at the commencement of the trial last month.

In her motion, Anderson also took issue with swallowing tests allegedly being performed recently on Terri at the hospice where she is residing and not being reported.

“If, for example, Terri successfully demonstrated a swallowing ability on four occasions and these results were deliberately withheld from Terri’s parents and her attending physician, these facts would indicate a deliberate plan to withhold evidence that Terri is not dependent on a feeding tube and could be spoon-fed and, thus, is not a death candidate by any reading of Florida law,” Anderson argued.

Greer has scheduled a hearing on the motion for Friday.

Schiavo has referred questions to his attorney. Felos was not available for comment.

Family reaction

Reacting to the new medical evidence, Terri’s father, Bob Schindler, told WND his emotions run the gamut from sad to angry.

“We’re having a difficult time with it,” he said. “Just the thought of the agony that girl went through and nobody did anything to help her. It’s a nightmare.”

According to Anderson, medical records show Terri has never been evaluated or treated by an orthopedic surgeon for the multiple injuries revealed in the bone scan, which may have a profound bearing on her current medical condition.

The 1991 discharge summary for Terri from the rehabilitation facility indicates, according to the motion, her progress was hindered by the “ossification of the right femur.” The motion defines “ossification” as “bone matter that forms around fractures and indicates the fracture was not a fresh fracture.”

Prior to her discharge, Terri had progressed in her therapy to the point of saying “no,” according to nurses’ notes. Upon her discharge, Schiavo relocated her to two different nursing homes, before ultimately moving her into hospice in 2000.

“Once malpractice money came in February 1993 she was put on the shelf,” Anderson declared in her closing arguments. “She hasn’t had her teeth cleaned since 1995 when he decided to stop cleaning her teeth,” she said.

Victor Gambone, Terri’s attending physician hired by Schiavo in 1998, testified he was unsure whether his patient had her teeth cleaned in recent years and said she hadn’t received therapy. He said he accepted Schiavo’s word that therapy had been deemed unnecessary.

“Before hospice, there used to be monthly evaluations of Terri by physical therapists, occupational therapists, and every month they said ‘Terri will not benefit from therapy,’” Schiavo told WND.

Schindler sees a certain irony in the newly discovered report.

“After the money came in, Michael Schiavo refused to follow through on a commitment he made to get Terri special treatment at Shands Hospital in Gainesville,” Schindler told WND. “So I went to his father to get him to intercede. I said, ‘He’s not doing anything for her. Please get him to do something.’ And I used an analogy that when someone has a broken leg, periodically what you do is check it to make sure it’s mending properly. When I read this report about the broken leg, I had a vivid recollection of my pleading with his father,” he added.


Earlier story:

Life, death tug of war in Florida courtroom


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