Refuting the findings of the county medical examiner, a neurosurgeon who examined Terri Schiavo before her death says the autopsy report confirms she was aware of what was going on around her.
Dr. William Hammesfahr, known as a pioneer in approaches to helping the brain injured, said to ignore the facts would “allow future Terri Schiavos to die needlessly.”
“The record must be set straight,” he said. “As we noted in the press, there was no heart attack, or evident reason for this to have happened (and certainly not of Terri’s making). Unlike the constant drumbeat from the husband, his attorneys, and his doctors, the brain tissue was not dissolved, with a head of just spinal fluid. In fact, large areas were ‘relatively preserved.'”
He said the autopsy results confirmed his opinion that the frontal areas of the brain, the areas that deal with awareness and cognition, were relatively intact.
“In fact, the relay areas from the frontal and front temporal regions of the brain, to the spinal cord and the brain stem, by way of the basal ganglia, were preserved, thus the evident responses which she was able to express to her family and to the clinicians seeing her or viewing her videotape,” he said. “The Spect scan confirmed these areas were functional and not scar tissue, and that was apparently also confirmed on Dr. (Stephen) Nelson’s review of the slides.”
Dr. Hammesfahr describes Terri as “a woman trapped in her body, similar to a child with cerebral palsy, and that was born out by the autopsy, showing greater injury in the motor and visual centers of the brain. Obviously, the pathologists comments that she could not see were not borne out by reality, and thus his assessment must represent sampling error. The videotapes clearly showed her seeing.”
He was critical of the findings that she was not capable of swallowing on her own. He cited her ability to swallow up to about 1.5 liters per day of liquid, confirmed, he said, by two other physicians.
“With respect to the issue of trauma, that certainly does not appear to be answered adequately,” he added. “Some of the types of trauma that are suspected were not adequately evaluated in this assessment. Interestingly, both myself and at least one neurologist for the husband testified to the presence of neck injuries.”
Hammesfahr concluded: “Ultimately, based on the clinical evidence and the autopsy results, an aware woman was killed.”
His statements concur with others who have conducted analyses of the autopsy results. Last week, an attorney specializing in medical ethics cases, Jerri Lynn Ward of Austin, Texas, made similar observations. She particularly took note of this autopsy finding: “The frontal temporal and temporal poles and insular-cortex demonstrated relative preservation.”
“What this tells us is that her cortex retained function and that her brain was more normal in the area that controls higher-level thinking,” said Ward, who has weighed in on the case in her weblog and in an interview with “Joseph Farah’s WorldNetDaily RadioActive” show.
Schiavo died March 31, nearly two weeks after the feeding tube that had kept her alive was removed under a court order obtained by her husband, Michael Schiavo. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, said they were willing to care for their daughter, insisting she had a strong will to live.
Experts supporting Michael Schiavo – contending Terri Schiavo’s brain cortex essentially was missing and filled with fluid – concluded she was in a persistent vegetative state. The Schindlers, arguing that their daughter recognized and responded to family members, produced neurologists who diagnosed her as “minimally conscious.”
Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner Jon Thogmartin, speaking at a news conference Wednesday, said the damage to Terri Schiavo’s brain was “irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons.”
But Ward, pointing to the autopsy report, noted the brain’s frontal lobe plays a part in impulse control, judgment, language, memory, motor function, problem solving, sexual behavior, socialization and spontaneity.
“It is very possible that she remained cognizant of sounds and other things without being able to communicate,” Ward said. “It’s possible Terri was aware of everything being done to her – yet could do little to make people aware that she was there.”
Ward pointed out that major damage to Schiavo’s brain was shown to be toward the back – the areas that affect motor skills.
So the question remains, says Ward, was Terri Schiavo still a thinking, aware human being?
In fact, neuropathologist Nelson, whose assessment is included in the report, conceded there is no way of determining through an autopsy whether a person was in a persistent vegetative state.
Editor’s note: THe current issue of WND’s monthly Whistleblower magazine, titled “WHO LIVES, WHO DIES,” is a groundbreaking look at the “right-to-die” and euthanasia movement.
For background on the 15-year saga, read “The whole Terri Schiavo story.”
WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the Terri Schiavo story since 2002 – far longer than most other national news organization – and exposing the many troubling, scandalous, and possibly criminal, aspects of the case that to this day rarely surface in news reports. Read WorldNetDaily’s unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the life-and-death fight over Terri Schiavo, including over 150 original stories and columns.
Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler family website.
Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.