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March 19, 2006

My Experience Walking in Terri's Shoes and Fighting for her Life

Topics: Testimonials

theresa.jpgSeveral years ago, when The Terri Schiavo Foundation was looking for individuals who had gone through similar experiences as Terri, I wrote to them. In 1996 I suffered a severe asthma attack, lapsed into a coma for three months and was declared to be in a severe vegetative state. I regained consciousness three months later.

My letters of support to Terri's family began a friendship between her siblings and me. Her brother and I used to talk on the phone regularly. He once said, "It's quite ironic that both of you suffered similar ordeals, and you are both named Theresa." Since then, I was active in Terri's Fight.

In late February of [last] year, the Schindler family attorney asked me if I would testify on Terri's behalf should they be granted a hearing. I accepted the challenge without any hesitation. On March 18 , when Terri's feeding tube was removed, I knew that was my call to action.

I was not comfortable watching the television coverage 24 hours a day from my home in Los Angeles. I felt that if there was anything that I could do to help, I would. I convinced my mom to fly out with me to Clearwater, Fla. and we took the red-eye out.

Actually seeing the television coverage and being there were two polar opposites. The atmosphere around Woodside Hospice, where Terri resided, was very emotional. The police presence was rampant and intimidating. People stood in solidarity --- we had daily Mass, prayer services, and shared tears. Every day there were about 200 protesters, ranging in age from infants to 85; in other words, it was all about life. The media lined the opposite side of the street where about 10 news vans and 100 roaming photographers anticipated that next photo opportunity.

A woman was generous enough to close her flower shop across the street from the hospice, which became a shelter for the Schindler family. As soon as they met me, Robert Schindler (Terri's father) embraced me and began to cry. Suzanne (Terri's sister) and I now have this lifelong bond. Mary (Terri's mother) stepped out of a press conference to meet me.

Yet, the time spent there was not about me; it was about trying to save an innocent individual from a cruel and inhumane death. The devotion of the volunteers and protesters spoke marvels about the human character.

Volunteers and protestors staged their own hunger strikes and camped out for 24-hour vigils. Children were arrested for trying to bring Terri food and water. I found this very touching, because Adam (one of the children handcuffed) said, "I'd rather be arrested for doing something that I know is right, rather than being arrested for committing a wrong."

People came from all across the U.S. Many, like me, are survivors in wheelchairs trying to show the nation that where there is life, there is hope. Although Terri could not speak, her voice and spirit to live was evident as she lasted 13 days without any food, hydration or nutrition. We brought a message from the Right to Life League of Southern California that euthanasia is wrong and a violation of one's inalienable right to life.

What did I learn from my trip to Florida?

For the first time, I was able to see a family go through what my family went through back in 1996, and I thank them for allowing me to share in their heartache. I also left with a deeper appreciation for my faith. The Schindler family is devout, and they turned to their faith at this most difficult time and came to the acceptance that "God loves Terri more than they do."

I gained a stronger understanding of suffering, and how one woman's life and her family's fight to save her brought a consciousness to America as to the fragility and sanctity of life. Terri Schindler- Schiavo and the Schindler family's faith and hope to keep her alive spoke wonders of an inalienable bond that America should and needs to embrace in terms of "family values."

It's both humbling and sad that I am able to write about a woman whom I never met, but the whole world knew, a woman who never committed a crime, but was disabled and having no voice of her own. It's ironic that all of this happened during the most sacred season in the Catholic calendar, the Season of Lent. I guess it will all be revealed in the Paschal Mysteries of our Faith and ultimately in the Resurrection of our Lord; He died so that others may live.

~by Theresa de Vera (ed. note: thanks for the video)

Posted by tim at March 19, 2006 6:23 PM

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