A brain-dead woman who was kept alive for three months so she could deliver the child she was carrying was removed from life support Wednesday and died, a day after giving birth.
“This is obviously a bittersweet time for our family,” Justin Torres, the woman’s brother-in-law, said in a statement.
Susan Torres, a cancer-stricken, 26-year-old researcher at the National Institutes of Health, suffered a stroke in May after the melanoma spread to her brain.
Her family decided to keep her alive to give her fetus a chance. It became a race between the fetus’ development and the cancer that was ravaging the woman’s body.
Doctors said that Torres’ health was deteriorating and that the risk of harm to the fetus finally outweighed the benefits of extending the pregnancy.
Torres gave birth to a daughter, Susan Anne Catherine Torres, by Caesarean section on Tuesday at Virginia Hospital Center. The baby was born about two months premature and weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces. She was in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Baby described as 'very vigorous'
Dr. Donna Tilden-Archer, the hospital’s director of neonatology, described the child as “very vigorous.” She said the baby had responded when she received stimulation, indicating she was healthy.
Doctors removed Torres from life support early Wednesday with the consent of her husband, Jason Torres, after she received the final sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church.
“We thank all of those who prayed and provided support for Susan, the baby and our family,” Jason Torres said in a statement. “We especially thank God for giving us little Susan. My wife’s courage will never be forgotten.”
Jason Torres quit his job to be by his wife’s side, spending each night sleeping in a reclining chair next to her bed.
Doctors had hoped to hold off on delivering the child until 32 weeks’ gestation. A full-term pregnancy is about 40 weeks.
Since 1979, there have been at least a dozen similar cases published in English-language medical literature, said Dr. Winston Campbell, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center, which conducted research on the topic.
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.
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.
The couple have one other child — 2-year-old Peter, who has been staying with his grandparents.