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Baby born to brain-dead woman dies after surgery

Associated Press
Published September 13, 2005


McLEAN, Va. - A 5-week-old baby, whose brain-dead mother had been kept on life support for three months to allow the child to be born, died early Monday after undergoing emergency surgery.

Susan Anne Catherine Torres, who was born Aug. 2 about 13 weeks premature, died of heart failure at Children's National Medical Center in Washington after surgeons tried to repair a perforated intestine, a family statement said. The infant's condition had deteriorated rapidly during the weekend, according to the family. The baby's prematurity led to an intestinal disorder and an infection that overwhelmed her body, and she died just after midnight, the hospital said.

Cancer patient Susan Rollin Torres, a 26-year-old researcher at the National Institutes of Health, suffered a stroke in May after melanoma spread to her brain. She was kept alive on life support so she could deliver the child.

A spokeswoman at St. Rita's Church in Alexandria, Va., said parishioners were told of the child's death at the morning Mass.

"After the efforts of this summer to bring her into the world, this is obviously a devastating loss for the Torres and Rollin families," Justin Torres, the woman's brother-in-law, said in the e-mailed statement. "We wish to thank all the people who sustained us in prayer over the past 17 weeks. It was our fondest wish that we could have been able to share Susan's homecoming with the world."

The baby's father, Jason Torres, had made the decision after his wife lost consciousness to keep her on life support for the sake of her fetus. The pregnancy became a race between the fetus' development and the cancer that was ravaging the woman's body. Doctors at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., where the baby was born, had said at the time that Torres' health was deteriorating and that the risk of harm to the fetus finally outweighed the benefits of extending the pregnancy.

The mother died shortly after her daughter's birth when she was taken off life support. The baby was about two months premature and weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces.

After her birth, doctors said they saw no signs that her mother's cancer had crossed the placenta, and they described her as feisty and vigorous. In late August, the family said Susan had passed 2 pounds and had been taken off a ventilator, though she remained in neonatal intensive care.

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.

Jason Torres quit his job to be by his wife's side, spending each night sleeping in a reclining chair next to her bed. The couple had one other child - 2-year-old Peter.

A Web site was set up to help raise money for the family's mounting medical bills and people from around the world had sent in more than $600,000 as of early last month. Any excess money was to be donated to cancer research and to establish a college savings plan for the two children.