Theresa (Terri) Marie Schindler was born on December 3, 1963, to Mary and Robert Schindler. Terri grew up in Pennsylvania, and by all accounts had a normal, happy childhood. After graduating from high school, Terri enrolled in Bucks County Community College where she met Michael Schiavo in 1982. Two years later, on November 10, 1984, the two were married. When Terri's parents moved to Florida in 1986, the couple followed.
In the early morning of February 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed in the hallway of her St. Petersburg, Florida apartment. Michael called 9-1-1 immediately, but by the time first responders arrived on the scene, Terri was face down, not breathing, and had no pulse.
Paramedics attempted to resuscitate her while rushing her to the hospital. The cause of Terri's collapse was determined to be cardiac arrest. Her medical chart contained a note that "she apparently has been trying to keep her weight down with dieting by herself, drinking liquids most of the time during the day, and drinking about 10-15 glasses of iced tea." She was diagnosed as suffering from hypokalemia, or extremely low potassium levels which can cause heart rhythm abnormalities, including sudden arrhythmia death syndrome. It was also thought that Terri may have been bulimic, another possible cause of low potassium levels.
Although emergency responders were able to resuscitate Terri, she never regained consciousness. The loss of oxygen to her brain during the time prior to being resuscitated caused damage to her brain. After two and a half months without improvement, her diagnosis was changed to that of a persistent vegetative state.
Speaking for Terri – a Family Torn Apart
At this point, Terri was being kept alive by artificial means. From that point forward, decisions had to be made regarding Terri's medical care by someone other than Terri. Initially, her husband Michael was appointed as her legal guardian. Terri's parents did not object. In fact, Michael lived with Terri's parents for several months following Terri's heart attack. Unfortunately, the period of harmony between Terri's husband and her parents did not last long.
In 1998, Michael filed a petition with the court asking to disconnect Terri's feeding tube. Terri's parents opposed the removal of her feeding tube. Because Terri had never formally expressed her wishes with regard to end-of-life treatment, nor had she appointed an Agent to make decisions for her, an epic legal battle began that ripped her family apart. Ultimately, the Schiavo case involved 14 appeals and numerous motions, petitions, and hearings in the Florida courts; five suits in federal district court; extensive political intervention at the levels of the Florida state legislature, Florida Governor, U.S. Congress, and U.S. President; and repeated refusals to hear the case by the U.S. Supreme Court.
One court ordered Terri's feeding tube removed in 2001, only to have it replaced two days later pursuant to an order from another court. It was removed again in 2003, only to be reinserted yet again pursuant to a hastily passed law. The third time Terri's feeding tube was removed it almost resulted in a confrontation between state and federal law enforcement officers. Ultimately, however, Terri passed away on March 31, 2005.