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Terri Schiavo's Unstudied Life

She also started to lose more weight. If she had developed an eating disorder -- medical experts have said that complications from bulimia may have led to her heart failure -- she hid it well. Scott Schiavo remembers sitting next to her when the couple came back to Pennsylvania for a family funeral. Terri was eating a huge plate of food, but she was thinner than ever.

"I asked her how she could eat like that and still be so thin," Scott remembers. "She laughed and said she must just have a good metabolism."


Terri Schindler and Michael Schiavo on their wedding day, in 1984. (Family Photo via Zuma Press)

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By 1989, Rhodes says, Terri and Michael were having marital problems. The Schindlers have suggested the same in recent years. The Schiavos dispute that claim. Still, both Rhodes and Michael Schiavo (in an interview with CNN) say that the couple had been trying to conceive a child. Terri went to see a gynecologist to address problems with an irregular menstrual cycle.

The last time she spoke to Terri, Rhodes says, she had just gone to get her hair done. Terri was toying with going back to her natural color, so Rhodes called that Saturday to ask what she had decided. Terri, Rhodes says, was in tears; she and Michael had had a fight over the cost of the salon visit.

Early the next morning, in February 1990, Terri collapsed in the hallway in her house. Michael heard her fall, found her there. She was 26 years old, weighed 110 pounds and was in heart failure because of a severe potassium imbalance.

Inside Woodside Hospice, Michael Schiavo likes to hold his wife's hand, according to his brother Scott. Today will be the seventh day Terri Schiavo has gone without the feeding tube that sustained her. Her husband sits vigil with her most of the day, his brothers Brian and Bill on hand to support him. Michael adjusts Terri's positions, moves her, makes sure there will be no bedsores. And he talks to her -- talks to her the way one talks to the headstone of a loved one at the cemetery.

"You know how that is?" says Scott, who calls his brother's cell phone multiple times a day for updates. "How you do it because it makes you feel better, even though you know they can't hear anything you say?"

The Schiavos leave the room when the Schindlers come to visit. They, too, take turns trying to make Terri comfortable. They stroke her hands, kiss her hair. And they, too, talk to her.

"We talk to her about getting her out and taking her to lunch," says Mike Tammaro, her uncle. "We tell her we're working hard to take her to lunch. The other night, we said, 'We're taking you out to breakfast tomorrow, Terri.' "

The family's vigil, Tammaro says, is tense and tearful. They watch carefully for signs of decline.

"I believe she's hearing some of this," Tammaro says. "I really do. I don't know how much. I don't know what state her mind is in. It doesn't matter. We just want her alive and home."

For Michael, Scott Schiavo says, the days are filled with sadness and frustration and anger at the politicians and their attempts to intervene in what he considers a very personal decision. Michael, Scott says, wanted this to be a private moment.

The Schiavos are grieving, too, he says. He says Terri wasn't a sister-in-law to him, she was a sister. He breaks down.

"It's so sad that they've turned this wonderful person into a sideshow," Scott says, his voice shaking. "Into a media circus. It's such a shame. It really is. The one that's hurt the most here is Terri. Her memory. They're taking away whatever dignity she had left. They're taking it away. And it really stinks."

And so they take turns in the room, two sets of family, each with their own version of who Terri Schiavo is now.

Perhaps there will be some last-minute intervention. More likely, her life is coming to an end. In her hospice room, she is surrounded by stuffed animals. The world has fast-forwarded 15 years. Terri Schiavo is 41 years old. But who she was -- a shy little girl, a woman still able to find joy in a simple stuffed bunny -- will forever be suspended in time.


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