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Family of Terri Schiavo join custody fight

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Family of Terri Schiavo join custody fight
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A Horseheads woman's fight to bring her husband home has picked up steam. The family of Terri Schiavo was in town Monday to advocate for custody of Gary Harvey to be given to his wife, Sara. Chemung County is Gary's current legal guardian. Our Vince Slomsky spoke with the Schiavo family as well as an attorney for the county and tells us more about this very complicated battle.

HORSEHEADS, N.Y. -- Gary Harvey has been in a vegetative state since 2006 when he fell down the stairs of his home and suffered a severe brain injury.

Custody was given to Chemung County after a judge ruled his wife Sara was unfit to take care of him.

Sara has been fighting to get this decision overturned, and now she has the support of a family who has been through this first hand.

In March of 2005, Terri Schiavo died after her feeding tube was pulled after a lengthy, high profile court battle in Florida. Her brother and mom held a conference in Elmira Monday to announce their support for Sara's fight.

"Yes, it's very similar and that's what's so upsetting to see Sara have to go through something like this. When you have someone standing by and wants to bring a loved one home, in this case a husband, and she's being told no," said Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo's brother.

Sara says this is just another measure she is taking to bring her husband back home.

"Gary I love you and I'm fighting for you. I'm not going to give up and I'm not going to turn my back on you," said Sara Harvey.

"It's just horrible how they're treating this woman when she simply wants to care for her husband," said Schindler.

Just prior to Bobby Schindler's conference, in which he showed support for the Harvey family, Chemung County attorney Brian Maggs held a press conference of his own. He wanted to tell the county's side of this extremely complicated story.

In all previous reports of this story, Sara Harvey claimed her husband fell down the stairs after having a heart attack. Maggs had this to say at the press conference:

"In February of 2006, Mr. Harvey was found drunk at the bottom of his steps, with a very severe head injury and he was found unresponsive. His medical record from the hospital contains a narrative, saying that he has fallen down these same stairs twice before sustaining injuries while he's intoxicated," he said. "I think it's important that the record is set straight about, there's no indication that he had a heart attack before he fell down the steps, as Mrs. Harvey reports," he added.

Sara Harvey tells News 10 the records surrounding her husband’s fall are sealed and she’s not allowed to discuss them. But she says she disputes Maggs’ decision to release the information now.

“This case is not about the circumstances of the fall,” said Harvey.

"All the county is doing is complying with the court order to act as guardian, in accordance with the way the court and the guardianship law reads," said Maggs.

Maggs says there are several reasons why Sara Harvey was not given custody in the first place. He says one time she was caught wheeling him out of a nursing facility to a park and acting inappropriately with him. She later cut a piece of his tracheostomy tube that she says was defective.

And another instance when she tried to give Gary oral stimulation.

"Substances like jello and whipped cream and she was found to be putting these things in her husband's mouth against doctors orders," said Maggs.

When asked if she was ever putting whipped cream or jello in her husbands mouth, Sara had a simple answer.

"No I wasn't," she said.

It's obvious this is a story with two very different sides, but because the records are sealed only those involved know what really happened.

Sara Harvey's visitation rights have been taken away. She has presented the state supreme court with an application to remove Chemung County as the guardian.

No word yet on when that court date will be scheduled.

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