The Terri Schiavo drama played out for more than a decade, ending 10 years ago this week. It included pathos and compassion, dignity and acrimony. The ordeal involved regular people and lawyers, judges and lawmakers. Self-righteous television and radio pundits chimed in and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother, President George W. Bush, took action. All over a young woman at the center of the protracted struggle between dying with dignity and breathing another day.
Here are some of the players and where they are now, according to online sources, published reports and interviews:
♦ Michael Schiavo became the face of the die-with-dignity movement during the case. He maintained that Terri had told him if she ever was in a vegetative state to allow her to die. His testimony was key in the court ruling to remove her feeding tube years after she suffered brain damage in a medical condition and never fully recovered. Since her death 10 years ago, Schiavo and Terri’s mother and father, Bob and Mary Schindler, have clashed. A month after Terri died, they disagreed publicly over the burial. Schiavo wanted is wife’s ashes spread in her home state of Pennsylvania and the family wanted her remains buried in Florida. The family won out, though the words “I kept my promise,” which was a reference to Schiavo’s promise to follow through with what he said was her wish, are etched on the grave marker. The marker also lists the date of her collapse, Feb. 25, 1990, as her date of death, rather than March 31, 2005, the day she took her last breath. In December 2005, Schiavo founded TerriPAC, to support political candidates who supported right-to-die legislation, but the PAC was fined in 2007 for failing to submit timely records and Schiavo shut down the PAC later that year. He has remarried and lives in St. Petersburg.
♦ Robert S. Schindler, Sr. was the father of Terri Schindler Schiavo. He died in August 2009 from heart failure at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, the same hospital his daughter was taken to 19 years earlier after she collapsed in her home. He fought tirelessly to save the life of his brain-damaged daughter and became the voice of the right-to-life movement with his moving and often tearful pleas on behalf of his stricken daughter. After Terri’s death in March 2005, Bob Schindler, along with his wife, Mary, daughter, Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo and son, Bobby, founded the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation in St. Petersburg, dedicated to support families in similar situations. The foundation now is called the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network and is based in Philadelphia.
♦ Mary and Robert Schindler married in January 1963 and raised their children just outside Philadelphia. Their first daughter, Theresa “Terri” Marie Schindler, was born on Dec. 3, 1963, followed closely by son Robert “Bobby” in 1965, and daughter Suzanne in 1968. Mary, Bob and their children moved to Pinellas County just after Suzanne turned 18. An Italian Catholic family, the Schindler children were educated in parochial elementary and high schools and the family attended Mass each week. Mary Schindler continues to live in Florida.
♦ Bobby Schindler is executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. The foundation works to support medically vulnerable and disabled patients and has assisted more than 1,000 families struggling through the legal process involving disabled family members. Bobby Schindler graduated from LaSalle University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He has been outspoken about his cause and has been a guest on national television and radio programs including Larry King Live, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dateline NBC and others. After his sister’s death 10 years ago, he gave up his teaching job at Tampa Catholic High School and became a full-time pro-life and disability rights advocate. He has testified before state legislatures and members of parliaments in Canada and Australia. He lives near Philadelphia today.
♦ Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo, the youngest daughter in the family, moved with her family to St. Petersburg just after graduating high school in Pennsylvania, and continues to live there. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in business and worked as a stockbroker with TD Waterhouse. She joined the 12-year struggle to keep her sister alive and has spoken out, like the rest of her family, many times on national television and radio news programs and shows. Since Terri’s death, Suzanne has become a full-time disability rights advocate with the foundation. She and her brother have spoken in 44 states, at 29 universities, colleges and medical schools in nine countries.
♦ Retired Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge George Greer, the trial judge who issued the first order to remove the feeding tubes for Terri in 2000, now is a mediator in Clearwater. The 73-year-old former jurist retired from the bench in 2011 after an 18-year judicial career. Before that he was a lawyer handling real estate and land-use issues and served two terms as a Pinellas County commissioner where he was key in the vote to build what now is Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg. Greer declined to talk about the Schiavo case last week. He grew up in Dunedin and while a student at Florida State University was roommates with the late Jim Morrison of the Doors. During the Schiavo ordeal, he wore a bulletproof vest because of threats. Being a mediator has been low key and much more enjoyable and, he said, “It’s a reason to get up in the morning.” He is married with two grown sons.
♦ Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Frank Quesada, who presided over a separate legal action brought by the Schindlers in the middle of the right-to-life struggle, ordered the feeding tube be reinstated in June 2001, two days after Greer ordered it removed. Quesada granted the delay requested by the Schindlers, who said their daughter’s husband lied to the court in another proceeding. “I don’t think there is anything more final or irreparable than death,” Quesada said in his ruling after an emotional hour-long hearing. He was appointed to his position in 1994. Born in Miami, he received his law degree from Stetson University College of Law in 1974 and served early in his career as a prosecutor in the Sixth Judicial District. Quesada still is a circuit judge in Pinellas County. In 2012, he was unopposed in his bid for re-election to a six-year term.