Tragic – Paralyzed Woman, 24, Starved Herself To Death To Allow Her Family And Boyfriend To Move On
(Daily Mail By LYDIA WARREN) – 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.
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.’
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.
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).
‘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.
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).
‘It has been very hard getting used to living in a body I no longer feel or recognize.’
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.
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.’