MUSIC: WILL SHEHAN, IN MY TIME OF DYING
LYNN VINCENT, HOST: Here’s what would happen if you were dying of thirst.
First, your body clings to all moisture. You sweat less and your internal temperature rises. Your blood thickens and becomes sluggish. Your heart beats faster, trying to rush blood through your system so that you can get enough oxygen for your cells.
This is Stage One.
MUSIC: WILL SHEHAN, IN MY TIME OF DYING. In my time of dying, I don’t want nobody to mourn, have my loved ones take me home and fold my dying arms...
In as little as three days, Stage Two kicks in: Your kidneys start holding on to water instead of sending it to your bladder. Organ failure begins, starting with the kidneys then spreading. Your urine turns dark and your eyes sink in. You feel dizzy and confused. Your head pounds and your skin begins to shrivel. This is Terri Schiavo’s condition on March 25th, 2005, as she lies dying at Florida Hospice of the Suncoast.
MUSIC: WILL SHEHAN, IN MY TIME OF DYING. Well, well, well, so I can die easy, well, well, well, so I can die easy, well, well, well, so I can die easy, Jesus gonna’ take up my dying bed.
LAWLESS THEME: INSTRUMENTAL BARS
LYNN: From WORLD Radio, and the creative team that brings you The World and Everything in It: This is Lawless.
I’m New York Times bestselling author and WORLD Magazine executive editor Lynn Vincent.
ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, CO-HOST: And I’m Anna Johansen Brown. I’m a reporter and features editor for WORLD Radio. I’ve been part of the Lawless team behind the scenes since the beginning…now, joining Lynn behind the mic.
Lawless is a true crime podcast that examines a frightening fact of American life: That not every crime is against the law.
LYNN: In Season 2, we’re back to finish our investigation of the Terri Schiavo story.
ANNA: This is Episode 1: "Are You Purple?"
SPONSORSHIP SPOT: Lawless is made possible by listeners like you. Additional support comes from Compelled Podcast. Listen to unique and compelling testimonies like Virginia Prodan, a human rights attorney in Communist Romania who came face-to-face with an assassin sent to kill her for defending Christians. Listen on your favorite podcast app or at CompelledPodcast.com.
CARRIE KIRKLAND: Good morning it is 5:55 at 104.7 WRBQ. I'm Carrie Kirkland. Our top story: protesters are getting desperate and the politics of life and death continue…
LYNN: Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo has won his legal fight to remove her feeding tube, and Terri has been without food or water for seven days. But a coalition of disability rights groups, pro-life activists, and government officials has been working to save her.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush has intervened and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is en route to take custody of Terri.
NEWS ANCHOR: … some say Terri Schiavo has been in a vegetative state for 14 years being kept alive only by a feeding tube, while others say she's well aware of what's going on around her. Since 1990, Terri Schiavo has been in this condition, left severely brain damaged after a heart attack. Terri's husband says she never wanted to live this way…
ANNA: It wasn’t a heart attack. It was cardiac arrest and there’s a big difference. A heart attack is what happens when an artery to the heart becomes blocked. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood.
A doctor had suggested that Terri suffered secretly from bulimia, and a chemical imbalance led to cardiac arrest. The evidence was slim, but nobody had a better explanation.
Now, 15 years later in 2005, it seems the entire country is engaged in a televised death watch. Some firmly support Michael Schiavo. They condemn the Schindlers’ appeals to the government to save their daughter.
C-SPAN CALLER 1: They seem to love pulling in the federal government, whenever they can get an issue that they can grab their hands around, but then constantly say, hey, the federal government is not supposed to be involved. This is social Darwinism.
ANNA: Others despise Michael and support the Schindlers.
C-SPAN CALLER 2: A mother’s worst nightmare is to watch her child die.
C-SPAN CALLER 3: I just wanted to say, I can see a husband can make decisions for his wife, but he is an adulterer. And he has a girlfriend and two kids. And I think she should have a lawyer. She has no living will. I'm a Democrat, but that isn't right.
LYNN: Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Children and Families has dispatched Dr. William Cheshire to examine Terri. Cheshire is a board-certified Mayo Clinic neurologist. He’s tasked with finding out once and for all if Terri is in what’s called a persistent vegetative state—a kind of waking coma. By now, dozens of medical experts have filed affidavits saying she isn’t.
Could Terri be in what is known as a minimally-conscious state instead? Or is she a “house plant” as Michael’s lawyer George Felos suggests. Whatever the answer, the case has the whole world debating the medical ethics of dehydrating a human being to death.
MUSIC: WILL SHEHAN, IN MY TIME OF DYING. Well, well, well, so I can die easy, well, well, well, so I can die easy, well, well, well, so I can die easy, Jesus gonna’ take up my dying bed.
ANNA: I was ten years old when Terri Schiavo died. I remember reading Lynn’s story about it in my parents’ copy of WORLD Magazine. I can still picture the cover. Because even at that age, Terri’s story made an impression.
It’s strange then to walk the streets of Terri’s old stomping grounds. See the place where she lived…and died. I’m a young newlywed, just like Terri and Michael were at the start of all this. Every question that Terri’s case raises feels relevant…personal.
It’s the spring of 2021, and Lynn and I are in Pinellas Park, Florida. It’s a town a few miles north of St. Petersburg, west of Old Tampa Bay. It’s Florida, so it’s hot and I’m five months pregnant, and ravenously hungry, as usual.
We ended Season One of Lawless in April 2001, when a phone call to a small local radio show saved Terri Schiavo’s life. Two decades later, we’re back in Pinellas Park to meet the host of that radio show…Carrie Kirkland.
Carrie is wearing a sunshine yellow sundress and greets us with an easy-breezy style.
CARRIE: Hey, so nice to meet you in person.
LYNN: See you. Yeah, You look so cute and summery.
CARRIE: It’s one of my, I've only got three of these in different prints I wear them all the time.
ANNA: Today, Carrie works in social media and marketing. But in the early 2000s, she was an up and coming talk radio host in the Tampa area. Lynn and Carrie and I are meeting up with Bobby Schindler…Terri’s brother. We head down 102nd Avenue toward Florida Hospice of the Suncoast. It’s the hospice where Terri Schiavo spent the last four years of her life.
LYNN: Let’s rewind to April 2001, four years before Terri died. Her feeding tube had been removed for the first time. But a phone call to a local radio station pulled Terri back from the brink of death. One of Michael Schiavo’s former girlfriends called in to Carrie Kirkland’s show.
SHOOK: I’m kind of personal with this case. I was the first girl Michael Schiavo dated…
ANNA: Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, heard about the call and sprang into action. The girlfriend’s name was Cyndi Brashers Shook. What she said on Carrie’s show seemed to be new evidence. Evidence against Michael. Proof he may have lied—both about Terri’s state of cognition and about her wish to die.
Michael said that wasn’t true.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO: I haven't seen or heard from her nine years.
MJ KELLY: Okay, so when you knew her it was Cyndi Brashers.
MJ KELLY: And you're claiming that all of her comments that she's made are false
ANNA: Over Michael’s objections—and those of his attorney, George Felos—a pitbull of a lawyer named Jim Eckert got a judge to order Terri’s feeding tube put back in…at least while they investigated what Cyndi had said on her radio call-in.
Cyndi’s phone call saved Terri’s life—then.
Now it’s April, 2001…just after Cyndi’s call…and everybody wants to hear what she has to say. Especially Glenn Beck, then a local radio personality who worked down the hall from Carrie Kirkland.
KIRKLAND: So I was sitting in a computer in the control room. And Glenn, you know, found out I had the call in the control room, and he wanted it and so he came into the mix control room.
ANNA: He asks Carrie for the tape, but she’s nervous about giving it to him. Worried she’ll lose her job. For three nights in a row, Beck sits in her control room while she does her show, trying to get Carrie to change her mind.
KIRKLAND: And you know, you can just hear Glenn Beck's voice…“Carrie you've got to do the right thing here. Carrie you know this is the right thing, you know…”
ANNA: Carrie says she wanted to give Beck the tape…but the story had become a political hot potato and she also didn’t want to get fired.
KIRKLAND: And I'm like, I know it's the right thing I have a house to pay for and a baby and I have to make money. It's a terrible thing, but you can't always do the right thing, you know. Very dramatic. It was very dramatic. And then finally, after a few days of that, you know, he just was like, Where is the phone call? And I was like, it might be in that computer. And he's like, what happens if you go to the bathroom? And I'm like, Alright, fine. I went to the bathroom…Yeah, he wore me down. I just couldn't take it anymore. And, and then the next day … I wake up to voicemails from Glenn Beck that says Carrie, I've got the call. I'm playing it. I'm gonna say your name. Everybody's gonna know. And I was like oh my gosh.
ANNA: “Oh my gosh” pretty much nails it. Because Beck…he comes out swinging.
AMBI: Station ID of Beck’s station at the time.
GLENN BECK: Carrie didn't really mean it to be controversial. She was just talking about it. And several people called in and said how great Michael was. And this woman, the former girlfriend snapped.
LYNN: Beck is on the Schindlers’ side, but that hasn’t always been the case. Up to this point, he’d sided with Michael. Beck felt Michael’s decision about whether to remove Terri’s feeding tube was a private matter. And that the Schindlers—and the courts—should leave him alone. But when Beck heard Cyndi’s claims on Carrie’s show, he immediately changed his mind.
BECK: Let’s go back now into the courtroom. He was talking about the wedding vows and how much he love, honor cherish sickness, health, richer, poor, blah, blah, blah…But wait a minute. We forgot, right? We were back at the girlfriend that he was dating right around the same time. That's weird, don't you think?...There's more to the tape. More in a minute…
LYNN: Glenn Beck isn’t the only person wondering what else Cyndi has to say. The Schindlers are desperate to talk to her directly, to get her to testify in court and confirm what she said on the radio. They think maybe she can even win the case for them—prove Michael isn’t fit to be Terri’s guardian. At this point, they’re looking for any way to keep Terri alive.
ANNA: For the Schindlers, the fight for Terri’s life has been all-consuming—ever since 1993. That was when Michael tried to end her life for the first time by withholding antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.
Now, it’s about to become all-consuming for attorneys Pat Anderson and Tom Brodersen, too. The two lawyers are engaged to be married. They joined the fray that same April, in 2001…nine days after Pat opened her own practice.
TOM BRODERSON: Well, it became apparent pretty quickly that there was going to be a whole lot more work involved in this matter than she ever envisioned.
ANNA: Tom and Pat are in their 70’s now. Lynn and I visit their offices in the old business district of St. Pete Beach.
TOM BRODERSON: Convo with Tom as he greets us at the door to their offices
ANNA: You can see the ocean from their front door. The cracks between paving bricks are filled with sand. Pat and Tom are liberal Democrats. For the next three years, they would face off against Michael’s attorneys George Felos and Deborah Bushnell. When I ask her about Felos, her old nemesis, she’s blunt.
ANDERSON: I don't know and I don't care. He could spontaneously combust for all I care.
ANNA: Over the time she was involved in the Schiavo case, Pat Anderson’s animus toward Felos would only grow.
LYNN: Meanwhile, as the case dragged on, the Schindlers had come to believe that it was not bulimia that had caused Terri’s mysterious, middle-of-the-night brain injury back in 1990. Instead, they’d grown suspicious of Michael. That he’d hurt her somehow—maybe not on purpose, but in one of his “rages.” By this time, he had displayed his temper with Terri’s brother Bobby, her sister Suzanne, and her father, Bob. In fact, Michael had been physically aggressive and even violent with every member of the Schindler family except Mary.
They weren’t the only ones afraid of him. In April 2001, after her radio call-in, Bobby telephones Cyndi Shook and begs her to testify in court. But Cyndi says she won’t do it.
BOBBY: Well, she also shared with me on the phone … that she was scared to death of Michael…if she came forward and testified, she feared not only for her life, but for her kid's life.
LYNN: But the Schindlers do have one more card to play. They hire a private investigator…Kimberly Takacs…and send her to Cyndi’s front door.
Takacs doesn’t record the conversation, but she does take notes. She writes that Cyndi “displayed fear of Schiavo during the entire conversation.” She jots a rough quote from Cyndi: “He was insane and crazy.”
Later, Cyndi would say Takacs had misunderstood her and gotten those notes wrong. Still, based on the conversation, Pat Anderson subpoenas Cyndi and her husband Don Shook, a former law enforcement officer.
She wants them both to sit for depositions. And not with her. With the pitbull, Jim Eckert.
SOUND: LANDING JUMBO JET
ANNA: On May 8, 2001, Jim Eckert is fresh off a trans-Atlantic flight.
ECKERT: Pat Anderson picked me up. And what happened was…I said what's going on now? Because I've been out of the country. She said you have two depositions tonight. I said, “Are you crazy? I just flew from Ireland over here.”
ANNA: Anderson says, “You still have two depositions.”
ECKERT: …it was just, I mean, I was working with no sleep, and no information. And they handed me this whole stuff about what Cyndi Shook had, and I did the deposition.
ANNA: The depositions begin at 6pm in another tiny, sand-fringed building, just a few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico in St. Pete Beach. It’s the office of Don and Cyndi Shook’s attorney, Joe McDermott. In fact, the room is packed with attorneys. McDermott, of course. Along with Eckert, Felos, Anderson, Joe Magri, and the PI, Kim Takacs. According to Anderson, there are also reporters waiting outside.
Eckert starts by playing back the tape of Cyndi’s phone call…the one from Carrie’s show.
SHOOK: I’m sort of personal with this case…
ANNA: Eckert asks Cyndi some basic establishing questions. Is that Cyndi’s voice? Yes. Is that the extent of the phone call? Yes.
But just as Eckert gets rolling, he gets sidetracked by a snappy little exchange with George Felos. Eckert mentions where Cyndi works, which the court reporter types into the real-time transcript.
Eckert then apologizes to Cyndi, saying he didn’t mean to make her workplace public…and Felos objects. Tells Eckert, “If you want to curry favor with the witness, do it outside of the deposition.” Eckert shoots back, “I’m going to do it right here in your presence, Counselor.”
ECKERT: He’s lucky he's lucky I didn't. I didn't get up and knock him down. I didn't like his philosophy of life. I know he was pro death… [28:45] I treated him professionally, but I didn't like the guy at all.
LYNN: Next, Eckert gets down to business. He asks Cyndi about her relationship with Michael Schiavo. She says they started dating in January of 1992. Around that same time, Michael had teamed up with some high-powered medical malpractice lawyers to sue Terri’s family practice doctor and gynecologist. The claim: That Terri had a secret case of bulimia and they should’ve known about it. The trial was 10 months later, in November.
Cyndi tells Eckert she and Michael broke up the same day the verdict came in. In December 1992, she started dating Don Shook. Eckert asks about Kimberly Takacs, the private investigator the Schindlers had hired to talk to Cyndi in the first place. Cyndi says Takacs arrived at her door, teary-eyed. She claimed to be a friend of the Schindlers, said they were running out of time. Cyndi agreed to talk.
Eckert starts going through Takacs’ notes, line by line, asking if each statement is true. And this is when Cyndi starts splitting hairs. Takacs reported that Cyndi called the radio show after she heard other people calling in and saying Michael was a saint. In Takacs’ notes, she writes, “Eventually she said it became too much for her and she just had to call.”
Is that a fair statement, Eckert asks? No, Cyndi says.
CYNDI: [voiced] “I didn’t feel fed up or that I—whatever—that it became too much for me. I just got angry and reacted.”
LYNN: That’s not Cyndi’s real voice. But it is a direct quote from the deposition transcript, voiced by an actor. Eckert reads another line. “He was insane and crazy.” Did Cyndi say that? No, she says. What did she say?
CYNDI: [voiced] “That I feel like he’s unstable.”
LYNN: Question after question, Cyndi downplays each reaction and answer.
ANNA: But there’s one area of Cyndi’s story that stays the same: She’s afraid of Michael. She’s worried that if she speaks up, he’ll retaliate. She says she has two children to protect.
After Cyndi and Michael broke up in 1992, she says he stalked her. He got a job at the hospital where she worked. That he kept trying to see her.
CYNDI: [voiced] I had multiple fellow employees that said, “There is a guy named Michael Schiavo that keeps coming on the floor looking for you.”
It scared her. She asked hospital management about it, but they said unless she had a restraining order, there wasn’t anything they could do.
ANNA: Michael got fired from that job a couple of months later. But Cyndi kept seeing him…following her.
CYNDI: [voiced] In town I would look up when I was driving--not at my work--I would look up and he would be behind me in traffic.
ANNA: It went on for months. About ten times, total. Cyndi would change lanes, turn onto side streets, try to lose him in traffic…but he kept following. Never all the way to her house, though.
CYNDI: [voiced] One time when he was behind me in traffic, he got next to me in a—on a two-lane going the same way, and he changed lanes basically right on top of where I was at, and I had to swerve not to be hit. I had to swerve off the road.
LYNN: Up next in the hot seat: Cyndi’s husband Don Shook. He confirms that Cyndi was afraid. Don was concerned for her safety, too. But when it’s George Felos’s turn to ask questions, he gets Don to admit he never saw Michael threaten Cyndi.
Don also tells Eckert about the phone calls—weird, silent voicemails that went on for minutes. Sometimes, they’d get 10 to 15 of these calls in one day. A couple of times, Don picks up and asks whoever is calling to stop. No one ever replies.
But on two calls, Don hears a voice. A woman’s voice. She comes into the room on the other end of the line and says, “Mike?” Then the call cuts off.
Don believes “Mike” is Michael Schiavo, still stalking Cyndi…though he doesn’t have any proof. One time, fed up, he answers the phone and says, “How would you like it if I got a job at the hospital where your wife was like you got one where my wife is?” (DS depo 30) He’s hoping to get a reaction out of the caller.
There’s no reply…but after that, the calls stop.
ANNA: It’s late at night by the time the depositions are over. Pat Anderson remembers being disappointed with the results.
ANDERSON: People are cowards about telling coming forward and just telling the truth. You know, they they're just cowards about it.
ANNA: Anderson says Cyndi sneaked out the back door afterwards, so the waiting reporters couldn’t ID her.
LYNN: About 18 months before that deposition, George Felos had argued in court that Michael’s wife Terri wanted to die. She was in a waking coma, unresponsive, Felos said, and would not have wanted to live that way. The Schindlers pointed out that the evidence was slim and hearsay, and came only from Michael’s side of the family.
To try to break that tie, Terri’s brother-in-law, Michael Vitadamo, sneaked a video camera into a nursing home and shot a contraband video of Terri interacting with her family just before the trial.
It didn’t help—probate judge George Greer ruled that Terri had indeed expressed a wish to die. Still, Vitadamo’s footage got passed around the media. And a neurologist—Dr. William Hammesfahr—saw it and called Pat Anderson.
Hammesfahr was in private practice in Clearwater. He had patented a new treatment for stroke victims, a method of “vasodilation” he said was capable of restoring at least some lost brain function. Hammesfahr tells the Schindlers he thinks he could help Terri.
HAMMESFAHR: She’s just severely disabled and certainly will take it to rehabilitation with present methods and techniques.
ANNA: Hammesfahr makes some pretty big claims—advertising an 80 percent patient improvement rate on his website. But he’s also listed on a medical watchdog site called “Quackwatch.org”—a fact George Felos is quick to point out. Hammesfahr’s methods are unorthodox, and many of his success stories can’t be verified. He also claims to be a Nobel Prize nominee in medicine and physiology. But that’s not entirely true. Nominations are only accepted from a small list of approved people, like the Nobel Assembly, or previous prize winners. Hammesfahr’s nomination came from a Congressman…who was not part of that group.
Still, Hammesfahr’s assertions that Terri could recover bolster the Schindlers’ hopes. Here’s Bobby Schindler.
BOBBY: Once you get get over the trauma of a loved one, having a severe brain injury like this. You're just hopeful for even small progress. So even if they're even able to communicate on some level, even if that means blinking an eye or lifting a finger, that's significant to a family, because at least now you have a level of communication that wasn't there before.
ANNA: Hammesfahr submits an affidavit, testifying that Terri could not be in a persistent vegetative state…not based on what he saw in that video from Michael Vitadamo. Five other doctors submit similar affidavits.
LYNN: By now there is a new date hanging over Terri’s head: August 28th, 2001. That’s the day Judge Greer has set to remove Terri’s feeding tube for a second time. But as Pat Anderson gathers the depositions from Don and Cyndi Shook, and files the doctors’ affidavits, she gets what she needs to delay that date. Now, it’s bumped back to October 9th, 2001. This dance repeats multiple times over the next four years: Greer sets a date, the Schindlers file a new motion or appeal, the date is postponed. Mary Schindler calls it “psychological torture.”
ANNA: But then, Bob and Mary finally get a win: When Anderson takes the doctors’ affidavits to the Second District Court of Appeal, the justices side with the Schindlers.
They order that Terri be reexamined. Not just by one doctor, but five: Two from the Schindlers’ side, two from Michael’s, and one appointed by the court. The goal is to see if Terri could improve given fresh treatment and therapy.
Bobby is at Pat Anderson’s office when the order comes in. He’s ecstatic. Finally, a chance to show everyone what they’d been saying for years. Terri is aware…she’s responding.
BOB: Remember that? We used to laugh at that…
BOB: Remember? Yeah. Mommy would go crazy.
LYNN: Shared memories. The glue that binds a family together.
Just a few months later, Michael Schiavo begins a family of his own. He’s been living with his girlfriend, Jodi Centonze since 1995…In the house they built together using money Michael was awarded in Terri’s 1993 malpractice suit. In September 2001, Jodi gives birth to their first child. Michael’s friend, Dan Greico, is happy for him.
GRIECO: It was time for him to move on with his life. I mean, he had devoted and with the help of Jodi, with the support of Jodi, that Terri, he loved Terri, and he still loved her…
LYNN: Grieco is Michael’s former boss. Before Felos took the case, he was also Michael’s lawyer.
GRIECO: …But it wasn't really Terri. anymore. I mean, there was not much he could say about it.
ANNA: As everyone is preparing for this new trial and the doctors’ testimonies, someone suggests mediation. But by now neither side has any respect for the other. Here’s George Felos.
FELOS: The level of acrimony, hurled at Mr. Schiavo, by by the Schindlers, I mean, he's been called a murderer, a wife, abuser. Those are not those that is not conduct and behavior, that that lead to reconciliation.
ANNA: Both sides are entrenched. Michael wants to end Terri’s life. Her parents want to save her. Still, they agree to give it one last try. They set a date: February 13th, 2002. Maybe, against all odds, they can sit down, talk things over, and come to an agreement.
Mary sits down with Michael, just the two of them. She says she’d like to get Terri’s wheelchair fixed, so she can take her outside. And she’d like Terri to get rehabilitation. Michael says she already had rehab and it didn’t do any good. “She’s beyond help,” he tells Mary.
It’s what he’s said again and again to the press:
MICHAEL: …Doctors after doctors after doctors after rehab centers have pounded into my head. nothing they can do for Terri anymore.
ANNA: Mary sticks to her guns. “I want to take her outside.”
“You can,” Michael says.
“No,” she tells him, “we’re never allowed to take her outside.”
Mary tells Michael she doesn’t want Terri’s feeding tube removed. He says, “I’m just carrying out what Terri wants.”
By now, he’s fed up and angry—and showing it. The mediator tries to step in. Asks Michael to stay calm, otherwise they’ll never get anything settled.
But Michael says, “We’re not going to get anything settled, anyway,” and storms out.
LYNN: As 2002 rolls on, the Schindlers and their lawyers are getting more and more concerned about Terri’s safety. They’re worried Michael might do something to hurry her death along, even before the trial is settled. Here’s Tom Brodersen.
BRODERSEN: We were trying our best as a group to watch her like a hawk…Well, that's why I started going to hospice personally…I met her in person for the first time in late September 2002.
LYNN: But Brodersen has another motive for visiting. He’s curious about Terri’s true condition. Brodersen says he has an engineering background and he wanted to approach his assessment of Terri with a scientific mind. As an outside observer, not part of the family feud, he wants to know: Can Terri actually respond??
ANNA: At first, Brodersen visits with Bob and Mary.
BRODERSEN: I made certain assumptions just for kind of my own operating instructions. Assume that Terri might be afraid of strangers. Assume that Terri might be afraid of men.
ANNA: So he hangs back, giving them space.
BRODERSEN: I'm pretty sure she knew I was there. Because she seemed a little bit subdued. But clearly, she was responding to her mother a lot.
ANNA: After a bit, Brodersen talks to Terri. At first, she’s reserved.
MUSIC: THOSE WERE THE DAYS
ANNA: But over the course of multiple visits, she starts warming up to him. Then he makes a breakthrough.
BRODERSEN: I encouraged Bob and Mary, to sing a song with me. And we sang as a trio, Those Were the Days. once upon a time, there was a tavern, and the chorus is, “Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end.”...
MUSIC: THOSE WERE THE DAYS
BRODERSEN: …After that, it was like, I had the Bob and Mary seal of approval. And and Terri opened up to me and warmed up and became much more responsive.
LYNN: Brodersen starts visiting Terri by himself. He makes a point to never close Terri’s door while he’s with her. At first he visits once or twice a week, but soon he’s coming almost every day. He says he and Terri became friends.
Brodersen would spend about an hour with Terri, just talking to her, trying to encourage her…but also using his engineering mind for what he calls “poor man’s research,” to see if and how she would respond to different things.
He figures Terri went to Catholic school…maybe she’ll like Gregorian chants. Brodersen was in a choral group in college, so he picks two chants to sing for her.
MUSIC: PUER NATUS EST
BRODERSEN: One is called Puer Natus Est. The baby Jesus is born. And it's kind of light, relatively speaking. Puer natus est nobis. It's a lovely piece when other people do it anyway. And I did another piece which was deep, and kind of ponderous. O Magnum, mysterium. Et admirabirile sacramentu.
LYNN: Terri doesn’t seem to recognize either song. But Brodersen keeps singing them, day after day.
BRODERSEN: She seemed to be developing an appreciation for Puer Natus Est, but O magnum mysterium, no, it did nothing for her.
LYNN: Brodersen also knows that Terri moans often. So he decides to encourage that.
BRODERSEN: And I told her, Terri, I love hearing your voice. It makes me happy when I hear your voice. I said, Terri, I'd like you to do this. I'd like you to moan. But hold it like a note if you were singing. And it'll sound like this: Ahhhhhh…After I asked her to do it, she went Ahhhhh. And I was blown away… Astounded.
ANNA: Brodersen sees this as proof that Terri can hear and understand what he is asking her to do. But he wants to push his hypothesis.
BRODERSEN: And next I said Terri, why don't we do this. I want you to do the same thing, only I want you to start and stop and start and stop. And it'll sound like this: Ahhh ahhh ahhh ahhh. And she did exactly that.
ANNA: Around this time, Brodersen runs across a CD of Gregorian chants. It includes Puer Natus Est. He loads it onto his iPod, plugs it into Terri’s boom box, and plays it for her.
MUSIC: PUER NATUS EST
BRODERSEN: And you could see her, her face kind of open up, as if in surprise and wonderment. And, as she was listening to it, she she she raised her arms about to shoulder level and extended them and, and moved them around much more than I had ever seen her move before. But all the while she was looking up with her face filled with wonder. And, you know, what I concluded from that is…she was filled with some emotion; wonderment, joy, whatever it might have been, she was filled with it. And that nearly made me cry. It does now.
ANNA: Brodersen keeps working with Terri’s voice. He knows the usual drill is to try to get her to look up, left, right, down…but he doesn’t think she has the motor control to do that, at least not consistently. Yet he finds that what she does with her voice is very consistent.
BRODERSEN: I told her look, what what I'd like to do is I'd like to ask you a question that you can answer with a yes or no. And if you want to answer No, I want you to moan two times and it'll sound like this--She probably thought I was completely daft that I explained things so many times to her. But I assume she'll forgive me. I said Terri, are you 10 feet tall? And she went, Uhhh uhhh.
ANNA: Brodersen is blown away. He wants to show Bob and Mary what he’s discovered. So the next day, when they visit, he asks Terri another question.
BRODERSEN: I asked her, Are you purple? …And she furrowed her brow like she was concentrating real hard. And then she went, no.
BRODERSEN: She whispered the word no, as clearly as you or I could. Wow.
ANNA: Lawless is a production of WORLD Radio. Paul Butler is our executive producer and sound engineer. Music by Will Shehan. Lawless is reported and written by Grace Snell, Lynn Vincent, and me, Anna Johansen Brown. For more resources related to this and other episodes, visit LawlessPodcast.com. Thanks for joining us.
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(In order of appearance)
Carrie Kirkland: Tube Out In 10 Days, audio from Tampa WMTX mix 100.7
RCIL Ribbon Ceremony News Coverage 6-4-04, Terri Schiavo archives at Ave Maria University
Open Phones: Terri Schiavo - March 20, 2005, video by CSPAN
Glenn Beck, audio from Tampa WFLA AM
Dr. William Hammesfhar
Between Life & Death - the Terri Schiavo Story, video by beanfieldproductions
Terri Schiavo footage just a few years BEFORE her death, Youtube video by GordonWayneWatts
George Felos press briefing after Terri dies
Those Were the Days
Puer Natus Est - Production music library
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.