Book Excerpt: 'A Life That Matters'

It has been a year since Terri Schiavo died following an intense national debate about right-to-die cases. Terri had been in a semivegetative state for 15 years after she had fallen unconscious at the age of 26. Her husband, Michael, and her family were bitterly divided about whether Terri should be kept alive. Her parents defend their belief that their daughter was aware and alert, and should have continued to live in their book "A Life That Matters."

CHAPTER 1: THE COLLAPSE

The phone call woke us. I watched my husband, Bob, stumble to the living room of our small condo, a matter of fifteen steps, where he picked up the receiver. It was around 5:30 a.m., February 25, 1990. Calls at that hour could only mean bad news.

"Dad, it's Michael," the voice on the other end of the line said. "There's trouble. Terri's passed out. She's unconscious. I can't wake her up."

"Call 911," Bob shouted, and slammed down the phone.

"There's a problem with Terri," he said, coming back to the bedroom. We decided to call our son, Bobby, right away. Bobby, aged twenty-five, lived in the same apartment complex as Terri and Michael, whose address was 12001 4th Street North, in St. Petersburg. Bob went back to the phone. "Something's happened to Terri," he whispered to Bobby, barely able to get out the words. "Michael called and said he can't wake her up. You ought to get over there right away. Check it out and call me back."

Michael Schiavo claims that he called 911 before calling Bob. We know otherwise.

Numb, too shocked to feel pain, Bob returned to the bedroom again. He has always had high blood pressure, and I was watching him with anxious eyes, close to panic over him and over Terri, yet half sure that nothing really bad had happened to our daughter. We had just had dinner with her that evening. Had gone to Mass with her that afternoon. None of us realized how ominous the news was. There was nothing for us to do for the moment except get dressed and wait for Bobby's report.

Over the years, Bobby never told us fully what happened when he entered Terri and Michael's apartment. The memories were too vivid, his pain too great. But now, in tears, courageous, he told the story:

"The apartment was only two hundred yards away, but I figured it would be faster by car. So I threw on some jeans and a T-shirt, drove over, got out, and went to the third floor. Michael answered the door. I went in. Terri was lying face down in the corridor between the bathroom and the living room.

"I remember it like it was only hours ago. Her torso was on top of her arms with her hands up by her neck. I could see half the side of her face, and she was having trouble breathing, like almost a gurgling sound. I leaned down and shook her shoulders and said, 'Terri, get up. Get up.' There was no response. And it was at that moment that the paramedics knocked on the door.

"Michael let them in, and actually I think he was behind me when I shook Terri's shoulder, or to my side. At first, I wasn't overly concerned. I'd seen Terri just a few hours earlier in my apartment. She was perfectly fine. I asked her to go out with me and my roommate, Craig Hicken, that night, and she said she didn't want to because she had been fighting with Michael earlier that day and she was going to wait for him to come home. So I said okay, and I remember she ironed my pants.

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