Inaccurate reports only hurt Terri Schiavo more

Dear Editor,

I am writing to voice my disgust at the recent column about Terri Schindler-Schiavo, and to inform you of some of the facts that you found convenient to overlook.

Before you question my knowledge of this case, I’ll tell you that I am Terri’s cousin. I remember the morning after Terri’s collapse when my father told me what had happened, and I remember the long weeks and months that followed, where there was much uncertainty about her condition and her future.

While reading your editorial, I was struck by the number of factual errors and omissions that I saw. Honestly, the story is just laden with them, and the result is a pretty offensive piece of prose. It’s offensive to Terri and her family; it’s offensive to disabled people around the country; and it’s offensive to good journalists who get their facts straight before they put pen to paper.

You state: “It all started in 1990 when Schiavo’s husband heard her fall and called 911.”

The truth is: Michael Schiavo never called 911. Terri’s brother, Bobby, did after Michael called him and asked he come over stating “something is wrong with Terri.”

You state: “Efforts to revive her were successful, but she suffered severe brain damage from being deprived of oxygen. Her cerebral cortex has been replaced with cerebral spinal fluid, and most doctors agree she will never recover from her vegetative state. Even the most optimistic doctors feel she can only gain a limited sense of awareness.”

The truth is: Unless you have it surgically removed or suffer a traumatic head injury, your cerebral cortex doesn’t just vanish. It’s still there, just damaged. Scores of doctors testified to this during the malpractice trial against Terri’s physicians. While Terri currently has limited abilities, her family’s contention has always been that she could have improved with therapy. Terri’s father, Bob, even had a brother named Fred with a similar brain injury who not only survived, but learned to drive a car and live on his own. Of course, I didn’t know him as “Fred,” I knew him as “Grandad.”

You state: “It is a very tragic story – a quality of life taken from such a young woman and the family doing all it could to help in her recovery. They moved her from one treatment to another in search of hope.”

The truth is: My Uncle Bob and Aunt Marylee have never been able to get Terri the therapy she deserves and needs. This is because Michael Schiavo is her sole guardian. Did you not even take the time to read one of the briefs filed on Terri’s behalf by her mother and father where they requested – over and over and over again – that they be allowed to make medical decisions for their daughter? Terri has received no rehabilitation of any kind in more than a decade.

You state: “Schiavo’s husband filed a lawsuit claiming medical malpractice. Before her collapse she had visited a doctor many times for various symptoms, and he had failed to recognize the signs of bulimia. The eating disorder caused a potassium imbalance leading to her collapse. Schiavo’s husband successfully won a $1 million judgment.”

The truth is: An eating disorder was never indicated as the cause of her collapse. This has been an ongoing misconception in Terri’s situation and, frankly, my family is getting sick of hearing it. Also, the judgment was $1.4 million, and the award was determined by a jury who was told that Terri would need care and rehabilitation for the rest of her life (they estimated that at 52 years).

You state: “Schiavo’s parents felt they deserved half the money her husband won for loss of consortium, and he disagreed. The husband had lived with her parents after the accident up until the time he was awarded the money. The parents, feeling slighted, began to charge him with abuse and asked him to divorce her so they could become her legal guardians.

“To support their claim, they argued that a 1991 bone scan showed signs of abuse and was the real cause of her collapse. It was not brought up during the malpractice suit but arose after they had been refused half the money.”

The truth is: Terri’s parents, on Valentine’s Day, 1993, about five months after the money was awarded, asked Michael Schiavo when he was going to start Terri’s rehabilitation. That was when the trouble started. Michael refused to grant Terri treatment of any kind. Months later she was moved into a hospice (a hospice is where terminal people go to die; Terri is not terminally ill) and Michael refused to allow her to be treated for a simple urinary tract infection, an action that could have killed her. That was when Terri’s parents filed their first of many court motions asking their daughter to be treated.

Incidentally, Terri’s parents never even knew about the bone scan until a decade after it was taken, after the statute of limitations on typical domestic violence cases expires. The abuse they refer to early on in Michael’s abuse by neglect.

You state: “Her husband’s actions raise concerns also. He has found a new girlfriend, with whom he has two children. He would like to marry her but cannot as long as Terri is alive. He stands to inherit the money in her estate if and when she passes. Both parties seem to have other interests than the welfare of Terri Schiavo. Greed seems to be the common factor on both sides.”

The truth is: There’s no money left. Michael Schiavo has given the money to his legal team to have Terri starved. Meanwhile, Terri’s “greedy” parents have given up their retirement funds, their house, their savings, and even substantial amounts of money from Terri’s siblings to pay for her legal counsel. Terri’s parents are greedy? That is a disgusting statement to make. They are dedicated parents who would go to the ends of the earth to save their daughter.

You state: “Schiavo’s parents admit in court records that she did not wish to be attached to life support but that she made those comments when she was a minor.”

The truth is: That is just a lie. I have no idea how you came up with that statement.

You state: “Before the malpractice award, both parties agreed on seeking treatment only, and no mention was made of her desire not to be on life support.”

The truth is: This is the only true and factual statement made in your entire article. The only one.

You state: “Greed seems to be the only motivation for both parties. It is tragic that both parties that claim to love her, are putting her interest aside to further their own agendas.” And “The only lesson learned is that a living will is needed. Every person 18 years or older should have one. It can be amended if you should change your mind, but it guarantees your wishes will be heard. You will not be left a pawn in an ugly game of greed.”

The truth is: Again, you claim to know for a fact that Terri’s parents are greedily trying to save their daughter. And for what? “To further their own agendas.” What,exactly, does this mean, John? What is their “agenda?” Why would two people give up everything they own to wage a lengthy legal battle to keep some brain damaged woman alive?

Well, those two people are parents, and that brain damaged woman is their daughter, who needs their help right now. That’s why, John. Not greed and not some imaginary agenda you made up in your mind when you were writing this at ten minutes to deadline.

Every newspaper article that disseminates inaccurate information about Terri and her family adds to the mountain of opposition that Terri and her family face. The article you wrote is available through Google News and God knows how many other media outlets, and your article makes numerous libelous statements that have no basis in fact.

As a journalist, you are responsible for what you write, John. You are also responsible for it when you are wrong. In this case, you are.

Katie J. Brown