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Supporters frustrated but determined, hold onto hope for Terri

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–As the afternoon waned and the sun sank in the sky and the air turned chilly, supporters turned somber, sometimes kneeling in prayer, and at other times, singing hymns including, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Victory in Jesus.”

Police cars and motorcycle cops continually rode up and down the narrow street between the hospice and the facility across the street.

One leader asked supporters to be vigilant throughout the weekend. “Terri is dying in there,” he said, urging some to bring sleeping bags and camp out to show their support.

On the side of the street opposite the hospice, a handful of counter-demonstrators held signs offering support for Michael Schiavo. One sign held high above a woman’s head read: “Let Terri R.I.P.”

Donna Kuntz, holding a sign, “Give Terri back to her family,” said the woman is by all medical accounts, a child, and as such, should be given back into the care of her family.

“Michael only had her a short time; her mother has had her since birth” said the Hillsborough County resident who is an area director for the Child Evangelism Fellowship and a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa.

“Terri is a like a child,” Kuntz said. “What I feel is happening is an absolute crime.”

Kuntz, a member of Idlewild with her family for nearly eight years, said Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband and legal guardian, does not have the right to make decisions for Terri because he has a conflict of interest by virtue of his extra-marital relationship with another woman with whom he has fathered two children.

“If this is not a conflict of interest, what is a conflict of interest?” Kuntz asked rhetorically. “I would love that to be answered because how do we know it’s not his girlfriend that really wants [Terri] dead?”

Concerned that guardianship laws have been completely disregarded in the case, Kuntz said society is judged by how they treat its weakest members and believers need to take a stand, regardless of denomination.

“But by the grace of God, there go I,” said Kuntz. “She’s interacting every day, she is not terminal, she does not have cancer, her only crime is that she is disabled.”


Standing nearby with one of the many disabled persons in front of the hospice, Christine Brevik carefully maneuvered her son’s wheelchair over the television cables and out of the bright sunlight.

Adam, 9, sustained a severe brain injury when he was 16-months-old and is in a persistent vegetative state, according to Brevik, a Port Ritchey resident who occasionally attends Beacon Community Church there.

Brevik said she came to the hospice because of the similarity of Adam’s condition to what some have described as Terri’s physical condition.

Bent into the wheelchair with a hat to protect his face, Adam had dark sunglasses covering his eyes and a metered tube protruding from his sweatpants. While speaking, his mother gently patted his face and moved his head to an upright position. She said he was awake and alert.

“Adam is PVS so we can relate and I think that to have somebody in your home or somebody you love like this you are better able to express an opinion,” said Brevik. “I still believe our government represents the majority and if they hear from the majority they have to act.”

Acknowledging Adam cannot do a lot of the things other children can do, she said “his small achievements” bring the same rewards that “bigger achievements” bring from their older children — like when he smiles, rolls over, or moves a mouse pad on the computer.

On a ventilator and a feeding tube for at least six months after his injury, Brevik said he changed from being a “lively and active baby to someone who couldn’t do anything but cry” in the blink of an eye. She credits his improvement with being in a loving home, surrounded by siblings and parents who care and give him as much stimulation and therapy as is possible.

“When he’s home with his family he’s very expressive,” Brevik said. “It takes work and it takes exposure. He gets outside and we try to make his life as full as we can.”

Brevik said the boy’s neurologist cautioned them that brain injuries are difficult to understand and unpredictable — and even doctors don’t know a whole lot about how the brain works, she said.

“We love Adam,” Brevik said. Turning off the ventilator right after his injury or ceasing to feed him now simply is “not an option.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan