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Experiencing the Shiavo Dilemma
Who will Decide for You?

This article was originally published April 3, 2005

By: Laura McCue Knowles

Terri Schaivo’s life ended at 9:03 a.m. on Thursday, March 31, 2005, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. Was her life as hopeless as the world was told? As a traumatic brain injury victim myself, and someone who has spoken with several people who had close contact with Terri, including her Chaplin and other close family friends, I want to speak out on Terri’s behalf.

Suffering from a severe traumatic brain injury, having a punctured lung and lacerated spleen, and three fractures to my pelvic bone in a church van accident in Central Florida, I was taken to the hospital in a deep coma. The doctors informed my family and friends that I had maybe three days to live, and that the type of brain injury I had sustained (Diffuse Axonal) was permanent and irreversible, so if I did live and wake from the com a I would be in a vegetative state for the rest of my life. Hearing that, why didn’t my parents just take me off of life support and let me die, so I wouldn’t have to live a life without purpose?

They hung on to hope. Hope in God who is bigger, smarter, and more powerful than all the doctors in the world. Hope in God who sees life as more than just flesh and bones or even a working mind. God created me on purpose, and my parents knew they had to let Him be the one to decide when my life here on Earth would end, so they hung on.

I hung on too. After years of trusting God’s plan, numerous surgeries on my trachea to allow me to breath, months of different therapies, and putting new meaning to the term hard work I am living a life the doctors said was impossible. The accident took place just after I graduated high school at the age of 17. I am now 23 years old living each moment of life to its fullest. I was married to Jeff Knowles three years ago and our wedding was featured on TLC’s, “A Wedding Story.” We are now raising our beautiful son (Caleb) who is nearing the age of two. I am also an author and a public speaker.

I never dreamed life could have so much fulfillment and joy. Being truly happy, I have learned over the past five years that the joy in me isn’t because of how much I have recovered. I don’t remember much about my time in the hospital because when I awoke from the coma I had no short term memory. It took a while to remember anything.

What I do remember is in bits and pieces like the sound of my mother playing her guitar and singing to me or Jeff’s blue eyes looking into mine, telling me everything would be okay without saying a word. The one memory I have that encompasses them all though is God’s presence and peace that assured me constantly I was more alive than I had ever been before. I knew in the midst of my circumstances that my life was not over and I trusted God’s plan. I pushed on to live each moment realizing that God’s plan was a purpose worth living for even if I never woke up. The joy I have isn’t controlled by circumstances surrounding me, but it comes from my Savior who lives in me.

 

Terri Schaivo’s injury was not the same as mine but Terri was alive and conscious to an extent that she could respond to her family through verbal and facial expressions, move her limbs with more control and to a larger degree than many other mentally handicapped patients, and she could even swallow and say the word “no” when she felt pain during the brief amount of physical therapy she had. According to Terri’s lawyer (Patricia Anderson) her husband stopped therapy only a year after her collapse and refused to allow anymore. The fact that the judicially appointed doctors argued Terri was in a persistent vegetative state is ludicrous. If that were the case than we can also constitute every ne wborn baby as in a vegetative state because they can’t communicate properly, move with high accuracy, or get food and eat on their own.

One argument made against Terri’s life was that there was no hope for her to recover at all. After hearing the facts, I disagree that there was no hope for recovery. The truth is that, yes, all brain injuries are different, and just because one person recovers, like I have, that doesn’t mean Terri could have recovered to the degree I have. However, if all brain injuries are different than how could doctors know for sure, especially when so little therapy had been allowed, that recovery was 100% impossible for Terri? Call me a stubborn optimist , but I have seen far too many brain injury cases where after therapy the brain was able to make new neurological connections to compensate for the damaged ones. Research shows that we only use 10% of our brain, so the other 90% is perfectly capable of picking up at least some of the slack if part of the ten percent is destroyed. I know the brain is one of the most complicated things we study and I am making things sound more simple than they are. But I also know doctors don’t know everything about the brain because it is so intricate.

My point is that we need to stop playing God with things we really know nothing about. If there is no proof that someone can heal, then where is the proof that they can’t heal?

What has happened to Terri breaks my heart because I believe God is the only one with the authority to decide when life should begin or end. As someone who was once where Terri was , I can testify that she was very much alive when they killed her, and I ask that the people of our country take a stand to make sure that this type of thing never happens again.

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