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Schiavo suspects bulimia caused wife's collapse

Michael Schiavo:
Michael Schiavo: "Terri has never spoken a word" since her collapse in 1990.

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CNN exclusive: Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, talks with CNN's Larry King (October 27)
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Right to die
Michael Schiavo
Larry King

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Michael Schiavo, the man at the center of a right-to-die controversy in Florida, said Monday he believes his wife's heart failed 13 years ago as a complication of bulimia.

His wife, Terri, is in a persistent vegetative state, and he has fought to let her die in accordance with what he says are her wishes.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Larry King, Michael Schiavo said he awoke early on the morning of February 25, 1990, to find his wife collapsed in the hallway of their home.

"What we can fathom right now is her potassium level was very low, more than likely from bulimia," he said. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which someone alternately binges on large amounts of food and then purges by throwing up.

The low potassium level led to cardiac arrest, he said.

When Terri opened her eyes a month later, Schiavo said, she was in the same persistent vegetative state she's in now.

"Terri has never spoken a word," he told King.

Michael Schiavo says his wife told him years ago when they were watching a television program dealing with terminal illness issues that she didn't want to be kept alive through artificial means, and he said he wants to honor her wishes.

But his quest has pitted him against Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who want her to be kept alive because they believe she can be rehabilitated.

A Florida court ruled two weeks ago that Terri's feeding tube could be removed, and the feedings stopped. But the state legislature quickly passed a law giving the governor the right to intervene last Tuesday. Gov. Jeb Bush signed the measure and issued an executive order to reinsert Terri's feeding tube. The tube was replaced last Wednesday.

When asked why he doesn't just divorce his wife or turn over her care to her parents, Michael Schiavo said he couldn't.

"This is Terri's wish, this is Terri's choice," he said. "And I'm going to follow that wish if it's the last thing I can do for Terri."

Michael Schiavo said Terri's parents are not motivated by a concern for their daughter and only want money. He said Bob Schindler asked him in 1993 how much money Schiavo was going to give him, and how much of his daughter's money he was going to get.

"He wanted to go out into the hall and have a fistfight. It was ludicrous," Michael Schiavo said.

The Schindlers have said publicly they believe Michael Schiavo squandered the award he got in a medical malpractice suit on Terri's behalf and say he hasn't given their daughter, who now resides in a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, the necessary therapy.

"We have close to 15 doctors who are on record with the courts saying she can improve and will improve," Bob Schindler told CNN last week. "At best, he (Michael Schiavo) has maybe four, maybe five doctors who have testified that she cannot. So, we have the majority of doctors that are very excited about Terri's recovery."

Michael Schiavo said he has given his wife everything he could think of to help her, including a brain stimulator implanted in an operation in California -- an operation doctors predicted would not be a success, he said.

"But I did it anyway, because I loved Terri, and I wanted to bring my wife back," he said.

He said all the money he got from the lawsuit has gone for Terri's care, and that he probably won't see a penny upon her death.

"There's no money, there's no insurance, there's about $50,000 left in her estate," Michael Schiavo said. "I will not receive a penny from this."

George Felos, Schiavo's lawyer, said medical experts from across the country agree that Terri "is not brain dead but she has no consciousness, she has no thought, she has no cognition, she has no awareness and she never will."

Michael Schiavo is now a nurse in a hospital emergency room, a career he says he chose in part because of his wife's situation. He has a girlfriend with whom he has a child.

Schiavo and his lawyer are pursuing the removal of the feeding tube in Florida state courts.

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