PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–A small crowd penned in by orange fencing in front of Woodside Hospice protested quietly Mar. 18, while inside, somewhere after 3 p.m. EST, the mechanism that connected 41-year-old Terri Schiavo to a feeding tube, for twice-a-day nourishment, was removed on a judge’s order.
“They have removed the tube,” a family member told the Florida Baptist Witness at 4 p.m. Michael Vitadamo, whose wife, Suzanne, is Terri’s sister, had just returned to a small building across the street from the semi-secluded hospice facility.
The family had huddled together since 1:45 p.m. EST in a glass-enclosed store front, after being asked to leave the hospice. Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, were joined by Michael and Suzanne as well as family friends. Bobby Schindler, Jr., Terri’s brother, was in Washington D.C. throughout the day, pleading with lawmakers to save his sister’s life.
At 2:45 P.M., the family’s priest, Thaddeus Malanowski emerged briefly to speak with the Witness, while hordes of media hovered anxiously nearby. More than two dozen national and some international media outlets covered the parking lot with trucks, tents, cables and cameras.
“We are all in a quandary, we ourselves don’t know exactly what’s going on right now,” he said.
According to the former military chaplain, the family was asked to leave so that hospice workers could begin preparing Terri for the removal of the tube, but at 2:45 someone inside the hospice indicated workers were waiting on a medical doctor to arrive.
Malanowski said he believed it was unfortunate the family was forced to rely on news reports to learn when Terri’s starvation would begin, but said even Mary Schindler, Terri’s mother, was holding up well and showing little emotion.
“They are just hoping for the best,” Malanowski said.
“It’s been removed,” Michael Vitadamo shared with the Witness after leaving his wife at the hospice with Terri. “Suzanne is in there right now with her.”
FAMILY JUST WANTS TO TAKE CARE OF TERRI
Vitadamo said before he left the hospice, Terri had been trying to speak with them and appeared alert. He said she was not hooked up to any kind of IV tube.
“We’re worried that all this action has done no good,” Vitadamo said. “All these powerful people and government getting involved and (yet) nobody seems to be able to usurp Judge Greer and his rulings. He seems to be able to have carte blanche of whatever he wants to do.
“It’s really difficult because you don’t want to lose faith in people,” Vitadamo said, in spite of the support and “love” from people throughout the world. It is especially hard when lawmakers and the “government which cries out for you to call upon them to serve you” appears to be out of reach.
“We just want to take care of Terri,” Vitadamo continued. “Let Michael get on with his life, let him do his thing. We don’t want anything from them. We just want Terri. She’s fine. We’ll take her just the way she is.”
Speaking of the future, Vitadamo admits taking care of Terri could be a significant responsibility and that her parents, Bob and Mary are not getting any younger.
“We’re more than up for the job,” said Vitadamo, who is a small business owner and musician. “She’s our family. You don’t just leave disabled people behind.”
Speaking for both is wife and for Bobby Schindler, Jr., Vitadamo said they have all pledged to take care of Terri for “as long as she lives.”
Watching Terri day after day, secluded in the hospice in what amounts to “solitary confinement,” Vitadamo said it is hard for the family to think that someone like Scott Peterson has more rights and legal opportunities than she does.
“We just want to care for our loved one until God takes her,” Vitadamo said. “That’s all we want.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.