Wednesday, March 23, 2005

DR. FRIST'S EXPERT. I want to return to Senator Bill Frist's remarks of a few days ago concerning the case of Terri Schiavo. Specifically, take a look at this:

I called one of the neurologists who did evaluate her, and evaluated her more extensively than what at least was alleged other neurologists had, and he told me very directly that she is not in a persistent vegetative state.

Who was this neurologist? The answer, apparently, is Dr. William Hammesfahr, who's been making the media rounds extensively this week. According to today's New York Times:

Several weeks ago, Dr. Frist said he contacted Dr. William Hammesfahr, a neurologist who has examined Ms. Schiavo and has generated controversy by saying that she might improve with treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, which forces oxygen into the blood. Dr. Frist said he used Dr. Hammesfahr as a conduit to obtain 33 court affidavits in Ms. Schiavo's case, along with video images of her.

That seems to match up perfectly with Frist's remarks. So let us consider this doctor who thinks Terri Schiavo can return to the living with some Michael Jackson-style treatments. On Monday, Sean Hannity interviewed Hammesfahr on his radio show. The audio is online here. I wish I had a transcript, but as you will hear, Hammesfahr claimed that, with proper rehabilitation, Schiavo could improve to the point where she could eat at restaurants, go to the movies, and enjoy life like anyone else. Hannity himself came within a millimeter of calling Terri's husband, Michael, a murderer; Hammesfahr demurred, explaining that he did not want to get sued.

Hannity also claimed repeatedly that Hammesfahr has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. This fits perfectly with one of Media Log's favorite pseudo-journalistic paradigms: "accurate but not true." The indispensable Bob Somerby digs up a report from the St. Petersburg Times that Hammesfahr's claim to Nobel glory rests on the fact that he once persuaded his congressman to write a letter to the Nobel committee. Hey, if that's all it takes, then I can claim to be a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, based on my success in whining to my editor to please please please send in my stuff.

Somerby also notes that the St. Pete Times reported in 2003 that Florida judge George Greer, who's in charge of the Schiavo case, had once called Hammesfahr a "self-promoter" who had "offered no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results to support his claim" that he had successfully treated patients even worse off than Schiavo.

I have tried to take a reasonable approach in understanding an immensely difficult issue, only to learn that I've been lied to by the likes of Frist and Barbara Weller, a lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents. I don't agree with Frist politically, and I understand that Weller is being paid to spin things her clients' way. But still, we have a right to expect basic truth from the Senate majority leader and from an officer of the court such as Weller.

Yes, my critics are nodding their heads sagely this morning, wondering why it took me so long to figure this out. Well, I don't want to travel down the road of terminal cynicism if I can avoid it. But it's moments like this that remind me of this Lily Tomlin observation: "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up."

And I have merely been deceived. I can't imagine what it must be like to be Michael Schiavo today, lied about in the most grotesque and shameful manner, his very life at risk because people like Sean Hannity have no compunction about labeling him as a monster who's trying to murder his wife.


Anonymous said...


Not so quick. Your first reaction was the human one. Now, like a lot of people on the left (but not disability rights activists) your finding material to support your rationalism. There's plenty out there. But there are also thoughtful pieces like this one in Slate that make a whole lot of sense to me. I mean, how is watching somebody starve to death in any way compassionate or humane? It doesn't really make sense in the gut - especially if you believe in the disability rights movement. I'm with Tom Harkin on this, even if he is forced to side with DeLay and other idiots like Randall Terry. Trust your gut on this one.

Anonymous said...

As the mother of a son with cerebral palsy it is very obvious that you haven't done much research into this subject or brain injury in general. So before you start trashing Dr. Frist, do some research. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not "some Michael Jackson-style treatment" and do you even know why he would be using it? It actually is used to help with patients after surgery to aid in the healing process. But in relating it to Terri Schiavo I offer the following information, more of which can be found at and other sites.

"Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Cerebral Palsy

In the United States, there are an estimated half a million people with some degree of cerebral palsy, with almost 7000 children newly diagnosed with the condition every year. Causes vary from oxygen deprivation at birth to infections within the brain tissues to severe head injury. The condition involves the inability to control movement due to neurological dysfunction in areas, which regulate motor skills. Severity of the condition can range from difficulty with fine motor tasks to patients who suffer from seizures or cognitive impairment. While there is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, researchers are investigating new and revolutionary means of treating the condition with promising results.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy- Recent studies have demonstrated a dramatic improvement in Cerebral Palsy symptomology when hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as a treatment. Researchers in Brazil found a significant alleviation in symptomology and other characteristics in a study involving 218 cerebral palsy patients. Significant enhancements were documented showing improved vision, hearing and speech as well as a reduction of spasticity by 50%, which occurred in 94% of study patients.

In a recent study by the University of Texas Medical Center, persons with cerebral palsy were treated with hyperbaric oxygen to determine its effects on motor skills. Researchers found a decrease in spasticity as well as improvements in gross motor and fine motor skills. An Ashworth Spasticity Scale as well as a test of gross motor and fine motor function were completed before and after hyperbaric therapy.

Why does hyperbaric help persons with cerebral palsy? Scientists have varying opinions on why the therapy is so successful as a treatment for the condition. Some theories suggest that the brain of some persons with CP are lacking oxygen and in a dormant, or sleeping state due to lack of blood flow. Hyperbaric forces oxygen into tissues throughout the body including brain tissues and fluid, resulting in a re-awakening of dormant areas of the brain. Other theories state that excessive swelling in the brain results in a lack of oxygen causing the inability of myelin sheaths to develop properly. Oxygen is forced into these damaged areas, through the pressurization of hyperbaric, which alleviates brain swelling by constricting blood vessels. In addition, hyperbaric is thought to provide an optimal environment to assist in the regeneration of brain tissue."

As I mentioned early I am the mother of a 19 year old son with cerebral palsy and right sided paralysis. My son has cognitive delays but walks, talks, rides a bike and is a front seat rollercoaster riding fanatic. He swims, loves movies and is awesome with Gameboy and Game Cube and the computer. When he was born it was questionable whether he would walk or talk. He was almost two when he learned to walk and spent years undergoing physical and occupational therapy and speech therapy as well as some surgical interventions. Was it easy - of course not. It was hard work both on his part and mine. He has many friends who are more "involved" and are in wheelchairs. They are more cognitively challenged and had their needs been ignored as Terri's have been reported to have been, then I imagine that they, too, would be in a more "vegetative" state. However, their loved ones made sure they got the therapies they need to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health. And many of these loved ones get nourishment via a feeding tube. And just as Dr. Hammesfahr stated they enjoy going to restaurants, movies, and enjoy life - just like you and I do. The fact that they enjoy it differently is no different that the fact that you and I enjoy it differently from each other and from, say, children.

And just as an aside - if you smoke, watch out - you might need a feeding tube yourself one day if you get throat cancer. And heaven help if you should get a head injury and be in a position where you can't operate your feeding tube. Who would want to pull your feeding tube?

I am not only my son's natural biological mother but also his court appointed legal guardian. I cannot begin to imagine not getting my son the best care I could. The fact that Terri Schiavo is in a facility 24/7 and eligible to receive the most intensive physical and occupational therapy and by all reports this was refused by her husband is absolutely criminal. He obviously has not pursued the therapies that would have improved her condition. Rehabilitation can vary from patient to patient but requires a multidisciplinary approach. I wonder what therapies Terri has had. There is no excuse at all that her hands are in the extreme fetal position they are in if she had been receiving the ongoing therapies available to her. That and other physical and cognitive indicators make it very evident that he has not been an attentive guardian and should have been removed long ago. If he is not interested in seeing she receives the appropriate therapies that can improve her condition then he should step aside or be removed. The court system failed Terri long before the feeding tube was an issue. Michael Schiavo has no business being this woman's primary guardian responsible for the decisions that affect her health if he is not pursuing the rehabilitation available to her to help improve her condition. Period. However, as I mentioned before this takes a lot of effort on the part of the patient, caregiver and medical staff and is an ongoing part of life - just as eating is.

Anonymous said...

The way I see it, there are different aspects to this case.

First, the human one. This is a horribly tragic story, and was so long before it became a public spectacle. I have enormous sympathy for Schiavo's parents and for her husband.

Second, the legal matter. The courts of Florida, and now of the federal government have spent 15 years going over all of the evidence supplied by both sides and have come to this conclusion.

Third, the politcal. It is so baldly obvious that the Republicans are trumpeting this case because they think that they can make political hay out of it. The leaked Republican talking points that have been making the rounds make this abundantly clear.

What this comes down to is that part number one is none of my damn business. Nor is it the business of guys like Frist and especially Delay who have somehow become instant experts in Schiavo's medical condition. Frist gets cover by being a doctor, sure, but the other evidence such as what Dan outlines makes me more than a little skeptical oh his motives. And who the hell does Delay think he is, besides someone trying to distract from the enormous cloud of scandal surrounding him?

Even worse is scum like Hannity using their pulpit to demonize a husband who we have just as much evidence as not is trying to do what he thinks is best for his greivously ill wife.

The point is that all of us instant experts have no idea, really, beyond what we read in the papers (if we even do that much), so who are we to decide what happens with this family?

Dan Kennedy said...

Christine --

With all due respect, Terri Schiavo does not have cerebral palsy. The cognitive parts of her brain are largely gone, and have been replaced by spinal fluid. This is something I learned after making the mistake of taking Barbara Weller and Bill Frist seriously. That is not a mistake I'll be making again.

Anonymous said...

As an interested typical American; I knew nothing about this subject until just a few days ago (hours, actually for anyone out there who can subtract 21.5 from 100 without the benefit of a battery-operated or PC based calculator).

However since, of course I have accesses to the Internet; and have scoured my search engine over these last few days, like most of us with Red White & Blue blood - I presently consider myself an unquestionable "All-Knowing" authority on this matter at hand.

My view; regarding the; "I see dead people – Oh, no you don't!" current raging debate - and have come to the conclusion that this matter should be a sufficient distraction away from the less relevant things going on like outsourcing, budget deficits, tax and vital program cuts, as well as the ongoing war against a country who’s leaders who we once armed but now despise and currently have in custody.

OMG... an important bulletin just appeared on the screen... one moment... one moment...

{eerie music interlude}

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission.

If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter.

We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure.

You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the louder shouter's limits..."

Anonymous said...

Dan, not only are you correct about this, but you don't know the half of it.

The media's irresponsibility on this issue is breathtaking, even for our current shameful era. People are dealing with a set of fabrications when the facts are easy to find and would take little effort to explain.

Our website has analysis and links to sources for reading the court decisions and their background--including more on the very interesting Dr. Hammesfahr. You--and anyone else that's interested in reality rather than ideology--should check it out:

Anonymous said...

The commercial media demands sophistry to feed its endless cesspool.

Newspapers, however, disappoint to the nth degree in their lemminglike attitudes of the past several years.

Anonymous said...

Stooping further to exploit an attempt at dignified death and turn it into a political freak show, right-wing activists are now sending their children into Terri Schiavo's hospice with cups of water so that they will get arrested on camera.

The sick irony is that because she is in a persistent vegetative state, Terri Schiavo can't swallow, which is why she needs a tube; pouring a cup of water down her throat would probably choke her.

Nelson, Roslindale

Anonymous said...


I realize that Terri does not have cerebral palsy as a diagnosis. Cerebral palsy is the term given to brain injury which occurs in utero, during or soon after delivery. However, it is still brain injury. My son's brain injury occurred just before and during delivery. The portion of his brain that was damaged is about the size of my fist. He is paralyzed on the right side of his body. The injury occurred on the left side of the brain about straight in from the temple and directly behind the left eye. If you look at a normal MRI of the brain it is divided into two hemispheres that are about the same size. My son's MRI is an amazing testimony to the magnificence of the brain. The right side of his brain has "grown over" into the left side of his brain and has "taken on" the role that the left side would normally accomplish. His MRI is basically lopsided! The part of the brain that was damaged is, like Terri's, filled with fluid. However, as I stated earlier, with lots of hard work on his part he has accomplished SO MUCH!

I guess my concern in this case is that Terri did not have a living will. By all reports her husband did not state her "wishes" until some time after her injury and a settlement of some type occurred. If he is not interested in taking care of her, let her parents. My son also received a settlement because of his doctor's negligence during labor and his delivery. The thought that my ex would have control over him and any money he has makes me nauseous. But because my son is considered incompetent by the court system (a requirement for me to have guardianship over him for his legal protection), he would automatically fall under my ex's guardianship if I should die. This man has not seen him in over 11 years! But still would have that control over him if I died tonight. This is the situation facing many individuals who are in a position like Terri or my son. My son never had the option of a living will. I can make one for him but it could be easily overturned by someone after my death if they were to become his guardian. So perhaps some good will come out of this awful tragedy. There is something inherently wrong when someone can have control over you just because they are your "next of kin" but don't necessarily have your best interests at heart. Much like my son's father. His next of kin. Who hasn't seen him in over 11 yrs. You know more about my son than he does.

Anonymous said...

Christene, your son's progress is heartening, but as to the Schiavo case you don't know what you're talking about.

Teri's husband waited eight years to see if his wife might improve before filing a petition to have her feeding tube removed. Her parents opposed this and challenged him in court.

Three different people gave court testimony that Terri Schiavo told them on separate occasions she did not want to be kept alive artificially: her husband, his brother and his sister in law. The courts have repeatedly concluded that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that this was her wish.

A wealthy religious-right activist recently offered Michale Schiavo one million dollars to transfer custody of Terri to her parents. Profoundly insulted, he refused, because he's doing this to honor her wishes --not to make money.

Nelson, Roslindale

Anonymous said...

Greetings Media Log,
I'd like to direct my anger towards Sen./Dr. Bill Frist. I suggest that as many people as possible send Frist a video in any format and request a diagnosis.Send a cassete, a disc, an e-mail, request a medical opinion from "Bill the Wonder Doc"