Susan Anne Catherine Torres emerged into the world 13 weeks early, kicking and crying three months after her mother suffered a stroke that left her brain dead and kept alive only by life support.
The child born Tuesday weighed just 1 pound, 13 ounces, but she kicked so hard when someone touched her foot that she almost pulled loose an IV tube.
“She is very vigorous,” said Donna Tilden-Archer, director of neonatology at Virginia Hospital Center. “We were very, very thrilled that she is so vigorous because it tells me she was healthy in utero.”
But the good news about the baby’s energy was followed by a sad development. Doctors removed the mother, Susan Rollin Torres, from life support Wednesday and she died after receiving the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Life support was removed at the direction of the 26-year-old woman’s husband.
“She was one of the toughest human beings I have ever met, absolutely determined in everything she did,” said her brother-in-law Justin Torres. “We’re here today because she is such a determined person.”
By Tuesday, doctors said Torres’ health was deteriorating and that the risk of harm to the fetus finally outweighed the benefits of extending the pregnancy.
Later that day, doctors delivered the baby by Cesarean section.
Her husband, Jason Torres, had quit his job to be by his wife’s side during the ordeal, spending each night sleeping in a reclining chair next to her bed. The couple have one other child — 2-year-old Peter, who has been staying with his grandparents.
English-language medical literature contains at least 11 cases since 1979 of irreversibly brain-damaged women whose lives were prolonged for the benefit of the developing fetus, according to the University of Connecticut Health Center.
Dr. Christopher McManus, who coordinated care for Susan Torres, put the infant’s chances of developing cancer at less than 25 percent. He said 19 women who have had the same aggressive form of melanoma as Torres have given birth, and five of their babies contracted the disease.
McManus said there were no signs that the cancer had crossed the placenta, which would greatly increase the risk. McManus said the placenta itself is being examined for any evidence of cancer.
McManus said he is aware of no other case in which a woman afflicted with cancer has given birth while brain dead.
“She is very unique,” McManus said. “We are overjoyed to be able to accomplish this goal, which three months ago seemed somewhat tenuous.”
A Web site was set up to help raise money for the family’s mounting medical bills, and as of two weeks ago, people from around the world had donated around $400,000. The family said it must pay tens of thousands of dollars each week that insurance does not cover.
Justin Torres said the family’s emotions were torn between the miraculous life that had been created and the death of the mother who gave birth despite such long odds.
“Her passing is a testament to the truth that human life is a gift from God and that children are always to be fought for, even if life requires — as it did of Susan — the last full measure of devotion.”