Short, Sad Life Of Terri Schiavo

In this undated photo released by the Schindler family, Terri Schiavo is shown before she suffered catastrophic brain damage. AP /Schindler Family Photo

Terri Schiavo was a shy woman who treasured simple joys and married her first love. She was at the center of national drama, but her public presence was compressed into a few photos and several seconds of video repeatedly broadcast around the world.

She died Thursday in her small hospice room in Pinellas Park, Fla., surrounded by stuffed animals and medical equipment.

Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo was 41.

She appeared to the world made up and dressed, although she had not enunciated a word nor made any choices since a 1990 heart attack that ravaged her body and mind.

Her case was called "the most-reviewed and the most-litigated death in American history" by legal expert David Garrow in The Baltimore Sun.

Since 1998, when her husband Michael Schiavo first tried to have his wife's feeding tube and hydration stopped after she'd been declared by doctors to be in a "permanent vegetative state," Terri Schiavo's life has been played out in countless courts, the halls of congress and even in the executive office of United States.

President Bush was roused in the middle of the night to sign emergency legislation. The Vatican has commented on her case.

The object of this unprecedented attention grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, a shy girl who giggled easily, but who hated to stand out in a crowd.

"She was quiet," childhood friend Sue Pickwell told The Washington Post. Pickwell served as a bridesmaid in her friend's wedding to Michael Schiavo. "She didn't like the limelight. How ironic is that?"

Even as Schiavo's life dwindled in the Florida hospice, a marquee in front of her alma mater — a sprawling, tree-speckled Catholic academy — Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster Township, Pa., read, "Terri Schiavo, Class of '81, We Pray That You May Live."

Schiavo grew up not far from Warminster, just off the Philadelphia Turnpike in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. Friends describe her neighborhood as a picturesque suburb built into a former farming community just north of the city. Her Catholic schooling was not unusual for the area: Bryn Athym Catholic College is nearby.

Born in Pennsylvania on December 3, 1963, her childhood home was a neat, two-story home; her bedroom lavender and quaint.

Schiavo's father, Robert, was an industrial equipment dealer, a quiet man who would surprise his children's friends with a dry wit. According to news reports, Mrs. Schindler was a classic Italian mother who adorned guests with hugs and kisses. Together, they were a tight-knit group.

Terri Schiavo was locked in a battle with her own personal image as far back as anyone can remember. She was a chubby child who gained more weight through adolescence, reaching at least 200 pounds by her senior year of high school.

She loved popular magazines and idolized celebrities like David Cassidy and the actors who played Starsky and Hutch in the old TV series. She only showed a boisterous side to a handful of close friends.

Those close friends have said Terri never excelled in school. She sometimes talked about becoming a veterinarian, but got barely passing grades. Her other interests during her school years were unclear, and she shied away from boys and parties.
  • Lloyd Vries

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