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Chaos and clashes undermine help for octuplets' mom

Thursday, March 26, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- The list of people octuplets mom Nadya Suleman has alienated from her life grows by the day: a number of public relations handlers have parted ways, and Suleman fired a group of nurses providing charity care.

Despite providing good theater on stages from the Dr. Phil show to websites, her apparent attempt to go it alone raises a larger question of how the unemployed, divorced, single mother is going to bring up 14 children.

While it's unclear whether Suleman doesn't get along well with others is a victim of a situation beyond her control, former members of her inner circle are lashing out.

"This woman does not care for these kids, she's in this for the media, for the paparazzi," nurse Linda West-Conforti told Dr. Phil McGraw on his TV talk show Wednesday.

Suleman responded on the show, saying members of the group West-Conforti founded, Angels in Waiting, were intolerably negative and poor communicators.

The tit-for-tat surrounding Suleman has kept the story alive two months after she made medical history as the mother of the world's longest-living set of octuplets. But it appears to have won her few friends.

Suleman has characterized herself as naive and too trusting of others, but those who have been close to her see it differently.

"They have a unique way of using people," former publicist Joann Killeen said of Suleman and her parents. "Manipulating people, getting what they want and moving on."

No friends or relatives have come forward to publicly vouch for her. She's told psychologists who examined her for a work-related injury and news media that she's been too busy having children to maintain adult relationships.

Suleman, who has no siblings, has sparred with her mother on the Internet. Her father has questioned her mental stability.

Perhaps most notable is the absence of a father to her 14 children, who were all conceived through in vitro fertilization. Suleman has taken a vow of celibacy, saying she doesn't believe she should date until her babies graduate high school.

Public fascination with Suleman began to sour before she left the hospital as her identity was leaked and details of her life began trickling out: She had six other children at home and had been jobless since 1999, living on disability payments, food stamps and student loans.

Public scorn, including death threats, motivated the Killeen Furtney Group to quit handling publicity for Suleman on Feb. 14. The ties are still not totally severed, Killeen said.

Killeen still receives packages for Suleman that she opens in her yard wearing a mask and gloves, a precaution recommended by police. A van of gifts is headed to Suleman's new La Habra home Friday.

Suleman's donation website is still in Killeen's name because a new not-for-profit trust has not been set up to accept 25,000 cash donations of varying sizes.

Though the calls have slowed down from the round-the-clock frenzy in the weeks after the Jan. 26 birth, Killeen still fields calls from news organizations because of disorganization in Suleman's camp.

Killeen said the work is particularly excessive considering that she agreed to complete three tasks for Suleman for free: evade the media gantlet when she left the hospital, select a television interview venue and put together a photo opportunity once all eight babies were home.

But Killeen's responsibilities quickly became much more than the average public relations gig, including stints playing with and bathing Suleman's older children while fielding media requests.

After Killeen and partner Mike Furtney stepped down, Suleman said Wes Yoder, who arranged book and music deals for the McCaughey septuplets a decade ago, was her new representative, but he quickly issued a statement denying it.

Then came Victor Munoz, who quit March 7 citing personal reasons but also telling a tabloid Suleman was "real greedy" and "nuts."

Attorney Jeff Czech, who currently represents Suleman, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday or Wednesday.

Killeen said she fears that Suleman will be forced to "do something extreme" when the revenue she's getting from tabloids and other media deals runs out.

Suleman, who said she plans to return to school for a master's degree, recently bought a new home for nearly $500,000. It's unclear how she's paying a team of nannies, who are now being trained by Kaiser Permanente nurses after she fired Angels in Waiting.

But without a job, Suleman will undoubtedly need income from media deals and donations to care for her children, all under the age of 8. Four octuplet babies remain in the hospital; four went home last week.

Suleman is paid by RadarOnline.com to appear in frequent -- and sometimes unsparing -- videos about her life, her lawyer said. Neither Czech nor Radaronline executive editor Chris Myers would disclose payment details.

For many who followed Suleman's story, disgust may have given way to disinterest. At the end of his show, McGraw called on the media to stop covering Suleman and leave her family alone, as he intends to do.


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