Chelsea Schilling is a commentary editor and staff writer for WND and a proud U.S. Army veteran. She has also worked as a news producer at USA Radio Network and as a news reporter for the Sacramento Union.More ↓Less ↑
In a complex case that has drawn the attention of the family of Terri Schiavo, a veteran’s wife claims a Catholic hospital has tried to end her husband’s life by starving him to death, placing him under a “do-not-resuscitate” order and refusing to allow him to return home.
Gary Harvey, 60, a Vietnam-era veteran in Horseheads, N.Y., fell down a flight of stairs on Jan. 21, 2006 and suffered a traumatic brain injury that put him in a vegetative state. Gary, an only child who is estranged from his two adult children, did not have a living will.
His wife, Sara, had him placed in a nursing home so he would receive care while she returned to her full-time job.
Following a family dispute over Gary’s assets, State Supreme Court Judge Robert Mulvey determined that Sara Harvey was not a suitable guardian for her husband and designated the county as legal guardian, according to Elaine Renoire, spokeswoman for the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, or NASGA, who is familiar with the case.
County takes guardianship
When county authorities took guardianship, Sara was separated from any decision making process for her husband’s health and medical welfare. Gary’s father is deceased, and his elderly mother has not attempted to obtain guardianship. Sara has been trying to get the judge’s guardianship decision overturned.
In December, Chemung County Attorney Bryan Maggs held a press conference in which he stated, “All the county is doing is complying with a court order to act as guardian in accordance with the way the court and the guardianship law reads.”
Maggs said Sara was denied guardianship for several reasons, including accusations that she purportedly wheeled Gary from his nursing facility to a park. Also the county said Sara cut a tracheostomy tube that she claims was defective and attempted to feed her husband whipped cream and Jell-O.
However, Renoire said Maggs failed to explain that Sara was granted permission to wheel her husband outside for fresh air.
“His attempt is to redirect focus on Sara and away from what the county has done to Gary,” she said.
Steve Sanborn, consultant to Sara, told WND that Sara had been dealing with her husband’s defective tracheostomy tube for several weeks at the time and asked the county nursing home to fix it because he was having difficulty breathing and swallowing. Sara purportedly removed the portion that she believed had been causing the trouble.
“The thing was causing a lot of problems,” Sanborn explained. “According to her, they did nothing to solve the situation, so at one point she simply removed the fish-line part of it. It didn’t harm him. It didn’t cause any danger. It was quite inconvenient for him, so she removed it.”
Renoire added, “She did make a mistake because she was a desperate wife. Gary did not need the trach to breathe. It was to assist because, apparently, fluids come down the back of his throat.”
Sanborn said Sara had been trained to work with a tracheostomy and knew what she was doing at the time.
“When she did that, the nursing facility immediately took him to the hospital and had the trach replaced, which is what they should have done in the first place,” he said.
Sanborn said county authorities got involved when the county nursing home complained.
“The home said she had, at one point, wheeled her husband outside so he could get some fresh air,” he explained. “They accused her of feeding him Jell-O, which she contends very strongly that she never did. At one point she was shaving her husband’s face and a nurse came in and accused her of giving him whipped cream. They took all of this – as a team of people – the staff at the nursing home went to the county and lodged a complaint, so the county was given guardianship.”
Recommended removal of feeding tube
Gary was later transferred to St. Joseph Hospital in Elmira, N.Y. According to an Adult Protective Services affidavit, Gary was hospitalized with respiratory distress and pneumonia, the Corning Leader reported.
Renoire said Sara is allowed only six hours a week of scheduled, guarded supervision – funded by his insurance. Sara has sought volunteers to supervise the visits so she can reduce the cost of the expensive service.
“She has tried to come up with other volunteer supervisors. A couple have been pastors,” Renoire said. “They said no. They always find a reason to turn down anyone she comes up with.”
WND contacted St. Joseph Hospital to ask why Sara is prohibited from visiting her husband. St. Joseph spokesman Dennis Sweeney said, “We do not have a patient by that name listed in our directory.”
Pressed for more information, he refused to answer any further questions or confirm whether Gary had ever been a patient at the hospital.
To further complicate matters, the court has sealed records on Gary’s medical condition.
Furthermore, the North County Gazette noted Kevin Moshier, the attorney appointed by the court to represent Gary’s interests, is paid by the county.
Renoire said a hospital ethics committee warden met with Gary’s guardian in May 2009 – but did not include Sara. The committee recommended removal of his feeding tube. The Chemung County attorney’s office filed the motion to remove the feeding tube in early June.
“They decided that Gary could no longer tolerate his feeding and the humane thing to do would be to let him go,” she explained. “They didn’t tell Sara until several days later. She said she wanted to see the medical records because she wanted a second opinion, and they said no.”
Renoire said a court order explains that Sara is supposed to be informed of Gary’s medical problems.
“She’s not allowed to give a decision, because that’s for guardianship,” she said. “She is supposed to be informed, but they don’t tell her. It got real bad, and the staff wouldn’t talk to her. They just treat her like dirt.”
On Oct. 29, 2009, Sara said she was told her visitation would be cut off because Gary was running out of money to pay for the supervised visits. Then Sara took her fight for her husband to reporters.
“That’s what saved Gary’s life, Sara going to the media,” Renoire said.
State Supreme Court Judge Judith O’Shea denied the request to remove nutrition and hydration and gave the county 10 days to return with sufficient evidence for the removal, she explained. In July the county attorney’s office withdrew the request, according to a letter from Assistant County Attorney Donald Thomson.
However, Renoire said Gary is still under a “do-not-resuscitate” order.
“Any time something happens to him, they can just let him go, easily,” she said. “That’s not their decision. That’s Sara’s.”
In a January 2010 letter to Bishop Matthew Clark in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, Renoire said she requested answers.
“The guardian attempted to terminate his life and would have been successful had Mrs. Harvey not taken it to the media,” her letter stated. “St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Ethics Committee chose to participate in what would have been Gary Harvey’s execution rather than prevent it. NASGA is asking you to find out why.”
Renoire said Bishop Clark responded almost one month later saying, “I am convinced that St. Joseph Hospital complies with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, that the Hospital is complying with the Order of the Court, and that there has been no attempt to shorten Mr. Harvey’s life.”
Sara Harvey stages peaceful protest outside St. Joseph Hospital in 2009
Fighting to bring Gary home
Meanwhile, Sara has been fighting desperately to bring her husband home. She claims Gary opens his eyes and appears to be aware of his surroundings. Sara has told reporters she has more than $40,000 worth of medical equipment at the couple’s home and would hire someone to help care for Gary.
The family of Terri Schiavo has announced its support for Sara. Mary Schindler and Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler, visited Gary at St. Joseph’s Hospital in December and said they would offer Sara any support they could, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported.
“We’re looking out for the best interest of Sara. She wants to bring her husband home,” Bobby Schindler said. “She wants guardianship of her husband, and it doesn’t make sense to us or her why she’s being denied that right, and why they’ve taken away her visitation rights and won’t allow her to visit her husband.”
He added, “It’s horrible how they’re treating this woman when she simply wants to care for her husband.”
However, Heather Harvey, Gary’s estranged daughter from a previous marriage who hadn’t seen her father in 12 years, told the Star-Gazette Sara is simply thinking about herself and should not be publicizing the case.
“If she actually loved him, she would put what he wants first,” Heather said. “We’re very happy with his care. I appreciate the nursing staff and doctors. We believe he’s gotten the best care he can. I just want what’s best for him. It’s all about him.”
A North County Gazette reporter claimed to have obtained the police report from the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office concerning the 2006 fall. The Gazette reported the police report indicates the couple had a history of disputes and intoxication.
Just after the 2006 accident, Heather and her mother, Janet, Gary’s ex-wife, contacted police, claiming Sara pushed Gary down the stairs. According to the report, police didn’t find evidence of foul play and there were no signs of struggle. The case was closed.
Renoire said Sara is not a threat to her husband and that the county isn’t explaining its actions.
“Guardianship is supposed to be about protecting our frail and elderly and helpless people. It’s in the public’s interest to know how the county is taking care of Gary Harvey,” she said.
“It’s a very clever trick. They’ll say, ‘We can’t talk to you. We can’t give out that information.’ They plant the seed that Sara is dangerous to her husband, but they’re not going to tell you why. If Sara had tried to do something to her husband, they would have called the cops on her, and she would be in jail. They didn’t do that. Nothing happened.”
Meanwhile, the “do-not-resuscitate” order remains, and Sara is still trying to bring him home.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Renoire said. “Sara has been by Gary’s side every minute they allow her, and she’s fought like a tiger to get him home.”
(Note: Concerned individuals may contact Hon. Judith F. O’Shea by calling (607)737-3560, faxing (607)737-3562 or writing Supreme Court Chambers, Hazlett Building, P.O. Box 588, Elmira, N.Y., 14902-0588.)