Wednesday, 15 February 2012

'I loved him too much to be selfish': The heartbreaking story of teacher, 24, who starved herself to death six years after she was paralysed... so he could move on.


When she woke on June 4, 2005, Christina Symanski had been looking forward to an evening spent with friends, cousins and her new boyfriend - taking advantage of her aunt's empty house.
But the 24-year-old from Linden, New Jersey had not foreseen what she later regarded as a lapse in judgement. In the early hours of the morning, she dove into a shallow pool, leaving her paralysed.
Six years and scores of blog posts about her ordeal later, Christina has died - starving herself so she would no longer be a burden on her family, and so that her boyfriend could finally move on.
After: Christina Symanski, left, had been dating Jimmy Morganti for six months before she dived into a shallow pool, paralysing herself. They broke up but both struggled to forget each other
After the accident: Christina Symanski, left, had been dating Jimmy Morganti for six months before she dived into a shallow pool, paralysing herself. They broke up afterwards but both struggled to forget each other
Christina, a former teacher who blogged about her frustration at being unable to do anything herself, had hoped that she would die within two weeks of stopping eating.
During a stint in a nursing home, she had met a fellow quadriplegic who stopped eating and drinking and died of an infection two weeks later.
 


    But the process was much more grueling for Christina - who died two months after her last meal of sausage stuffing with walnuts. She had stopped taking medication and only drank sips of water.
    She died in the arms of her mother, Louise Ruoff, fulfilling her earlier promise: 'I was with you the day you came into the world and I will be with you when you leave it.'
    Happier times: They met when Jimmy asked her friend for directions and she realised he was Christina's type
    Happier times: They met when Jimmy asked her friend for directions and she realised he was Christina's type
    Close: Jimmy pulled Christina from the pool after the accident - but her family barred him from visiting the hospital
    Close: Jimmy pulled her from the pool after the accident, but her family barred him from visiting the hospital

    Christina, who died aged 31, told her mother she no longer wanted to live an intolerable life in which she was reliant on her mother and younger half-sister Kati.

    WHEN CHRISSY MET JIMMY: 'A ONE IN A MILLION CHANCE MEETING'

    'I had broken off a long term, rocky relationship of almost six years. My best friend Christy had also ended a long term relationship, and decided to move back home. One day, she was driving around town and had stopped at a traffic light,when she noticed the guy in the car next her trying to get her attention. She rolled down her window, and the man asked her if she knew how to get to a certain street. Since Christy was new to the area herself, she told him she couldn't help him.
    'Shortly after, they both started driving away. It dawned on Christy, that this guy was my type, and decided to start flashing her lights at him, getting him to pull over. She then proceeded to ask the man if he was single, and explained that her best friend was single, and might be interested in meeting him. She asked him for his phone number. Amused, he gave it to her.
    'The next thing I knew, I was getting a phone call from Christy, explaining this bizarre encounter. At first, I thought she had completely lost her mind. I thought, "this guy must think I'm pathetic' Reluctantly, I agreed we could call him together.
    'The guy picked up. He seemed like a really fun loving person. Nervousness aside, I found it very easy to talk to him, and decided to take a chance to get to know him. There was no way I was going to go on a blind date,solo so we decided to invite him to spend the weekend with us. I guess he liked my pictures, and our conversation, because he decided to take the risk, and take us up on our offer.
    We spent that week, getting to know one another, on the phone and email. We had a similar sense of humor, and were both into the arts. He was a musician, and I was a painter.  His personality, and sense of humor, seemed too good to be true. I felt like we'd been friends forever. Up until that point in my life, I'd never met a guy as funny, outgoing and down to earth, that I also felt attracted to. I fell for him, fast & hard.'
    Christina Symanski on her blog,www.lifeparalyzed.blogspot.com
    After her death in December, a friend updated Christina's blog with her final entry.
    'It's hard for my loved ones to accept, but I feel like my life has come to a point where just living, equates to physical, and emotional suffering,' she wrote.
    Christina had broken her neck diving into a swimming pool in 2005 during an impromptu house party.
    On her blog, she described how her father and step-mother bombarded her with guilt after the accident that left her paralysed from the neck down, telling her how much they had to deal with now she was reliant on them.
    They cut off her contact with friends, read her journals to throw back titbits back in her face and berated her for drinking alcohol on the night of the accident, she wrote.
    But she also used the blog to describe her feelings for her boyfriend of six months, Jimmy Morganti, a musician who pulled her from the pool and yelled for someone to call 911.
    He was about to move into her apartment, and they had talked about marriage and a family, at the time of the accident. Christina described their whirlwind romance and how she 'fell for him, fast and hard'.
    The couple - initially held from seeing each other by Christina's parents, who partly blamed Jimmy for the accident - stayed together for around six months afterwards.
    'I knew the reality that I might never get better,' Christina wrote. 'I couldn't handle the thought of sentencing Jimmy to the Hell that had become my life.
    'Every moment we had spent together that I was paralyzed, all we could do was cry. Every second killed me. I wanted a better life than I could give to him, for him.'
    'I loved him too much to be selfish. I had to let him go, even if it killed me, and that's exactly what I did.' She describes their goodbye after the break up as 'the lowest point of my life'.
    The blog describes how she would often wonder what they would be doing if the accident had never happened, and how thoughts of finding a cure so they could be reunited got her through the days.
    'Ultimately, my greatest wish, and prayer to God,' she wrote, 'is that I be freed from THIS life (whether by death, or miraculous cure).
    Good together: On her blog, Christina, who died in December after two months of starving herself, wrote that they had agreed their six months had been the happiest times of their lives
    Good together: On her blog, Christina, who died in December after two months of starving herself, wrote that they had agreed their six months had been the happiest time of their lives

    'My hope is that there is a heaven, and that my separation from my loved ones will only be temporary. If I could be with Jimmy, the way things were before, that alone, would be heaven for me.'
    They eventually became friends and in the last few months of her life, he helped her write an e-book about her life. 'I was always crazy in love with her and I still am,' he told the Star Ledger.


    'I couldn't handle the thought of sentencing Jimmy to the hell that had become my life. I wanted a better life than I could give to him, for him. I loved him too much to be selfish. I had to let him go, even if it killed me, and that's exactly what I did'

    Christina Symanski

    After a year in the nursing home, Christina shared an apartment with a friend and then her family.
    She taught herself how to paint by holding a brush in her mouth, and her canvases were displayed in galleries across New Jersey.
    But around two years ago, she began researching how she could legally end her life.
    Her mother told the Star Ledger: 'She was always a very private person, even as a toddler. But now she could do absolutely nothing for herself.'
    Christina wrote about that in her blog: 'I can’t groom or dress myself in any way. I rely on others for everything and, although my caregivers help, some things are embarrassing or awkward to ask for or accept help for (like shaving, going to the bathroom, brushing my teeth, cleaning my ears, clipping my toenails, blowing my noise, dealing with acne and dealing with my period).
    In love: Christina and Jimmy
    In love: Christina and Jimmy
    In love: The couple were about to move in together before the accident, but broke up six months later
    Struggle: Christina stopped eating in order to take her own life. She thought it would only take two weeks
    Struggle: Christina stopped eating in order to take her own life. It took two months before she died

    'It has been very hard getting used to living in a body I no longer feel or recognize.'

    'I HAVE NO LOGICAL REASON FOR WHY I DID IT': THE ACCIDENT

    'We were at my cousin's house and around 2am, I begged Jimmy to come swim with me. He said he'd come join me. I made my way over to the pool. It was dimly lit by the porch light. I kicked off my sandals, and dropped my shirt and skirt onto the grass.
    'I hesitated for a moment, deciding if I wanted to take down the ladder but opted to boost myself up onto a storage container instead. Without a moment's hesitation or thought, I dove head first, into the dark water. Within seconds, I heard a large cracking sound, and felt the impact, of my head, hitting the bottom.
    'I remember opening my eyes, and barely seeing my lifeless limbs, hanging at my sides. I was face down, alone, in the water and I couldn't move. The thought flashed across my mind, "This is it. This is how I die."
    'Then I heard a huge splash, and the next thing I know, Jimmy is in the water, pulling me out of the pool. The next few minutes, were pure panic, and chaos. I knew I had screwed up, BIG TIME. I was hurt, BADLY. I couldn't feel, or move, most of my body, and the pain radiating from my neck was excruciating.
    'I had everything to lose for my lapses in judgement. I should've never dove into a shallow pool. To this day, I have no logical reason for why I did what I did. I've been asking myself that question, every day, since that day.'
    Christina Symanski on her blog,www.lifeparalyzed.blogspot.com
    She also started to suffer from bed sores and a condition called autonomic dysreflexia, where her body overreacted to pain she could not consciously feel.
    'Every night, she awoke with cold sweats and nausea and pains in her chest,' her mother said. 'She described it as having the worst flu you could imagine but having it every day.'
    Christina researched right-to-die laws and had two psychological evaluations, as well as consultations with lawyers and phsyicians.
    'She did everything she could so that the responsibility for whatever happened was hers alone,' said Jeanne Kerwin, coordinator for Ethics and Palliative Care at Overlook Medical Center in Summit.
    In September, Christina paid for a holiday at Disney World with Jimmy, Kati, and her mother, but most of the time she was too sick to come out of her hotel room.
    She decided at that point to stop eating.
    The ensuing months were 'rough', her mother remembered. Christina suffered from hallucinations and was often incoherent.
    Jimmy came to visit three days before she died and remembered how she hated the burden on her family.
    'She couldn’t talk in sentences. Wasn’t making a lot of sense,' he told the Star Ledger.
    'She said something like she was sorry I had to drive so many minutes to get there.'
    Around the same time, she had told her family she wanted to be taken back to the hospital so she could be cared for - as she did not want to ruin her cousin's birthday.
    Her mother added that she was always thinking of her friends and family, and hated the idea of burdening them or upsetting them.
    Remembered: Jimmy said he believed that by dying, Christina was allowing him to live a life she wanted for him
    Remembered: Jimmy said he believed that by dying, Christina was allowing him to live a life she wanted for him

    In a letter to her grandmother, posted after her death, she wrote: 'Let me start by saying how sorry I am for leaving you behind. I never meant to hurt you or make you cry.'
    Christina slipped into a coma and died on December 1, 2011.
    Before her death, Christina had written up what she wanted to happen with her body. She had been born on the Fourth of July and wanted to be cremated so her ashes could be mixed with fireworks and let off at this year's celebrations.
    Jimmy told the paper that he continues to struggle with the accident, its aftermath and his future without Christina.
    Despite a serious relationship after they broke up, he said he was unable to forget her. He broke the new relationship off and has not looked for another girlfriend.
    'I couldn’t,' he said. 'I don’t know, maybe now I can. I think that’s what Christina wanted for me. I think she believed that, by dying, she was letting me live.'

    'IS IT REALLY WORTH LIVING?' CHRISTINA'S FINAL BLOG POST

    'It's hard for my loved ones to accept, but I feel like my life has come to a point where just living, equates to physical, and emotional suffering.
    'I've been suffering for so long, and my symptoms are only getting worse. There is no cure, or quick fix. When I think about all the factors, and weigh all the variables, that contribute to MY daily life, the negatives vastly outweigh the positives.
    'I rely on others, for everything, and although my caregivers help me, some things are embarrassing, or awkward to ask for and accept help for (like shaving, going to bathroom, brushing my teeth, cleaning my ears, clipping my toe nails, blowing my nose, dealing with acne and dealing with my period), or just never turn out the way it would, if I were doing it for myself. It has been very hard, getting used to living in a body, I no longer feel, or recognize. 
    'The only things I have going for me, is the love & support, of my family & friends. I am blessed with amazing friends, that have taken an active role in my life, and have stood by side.
    'i'm left with the question, "is it really worth living?" Not for everyone else's reasons, or for anyone else, but ME. If not, than I only have but one choice, and that's to stop accepting the treatments that are prolonging my unnatural lifestyle. My only hope, and biggest obstacle, is that my loved one's understand and accept my wishes, and know that my wish is to prevent suffering, because I don't view THIS as a quality life.'


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