In a bed at Virginia Hospital Center, the body of Susan Torres clings to life on a respirator. Though doctors say she is brain dead with no hope of recovery, her husband Jason is asking that she be kept alive to deliver the 23-week-old unborn child she still carries.
"The baby needs at least 26 weeks to have a good chance of being
healthy as a premature baby," said Paul Rollin, Susan's father. "We know Susan can do it."
Torres, 26, a vaccine researcher for the National Institute of Health, collapsed May 7, according to family friend Dan Purtill, and was declared brain dead at in the emergency room that same night after an examination revealed she had suffered a massive brain
hemorrhage. Yet she was already 17 weeks along in her second pregnancy. Being a mother, Purtill said, was a role Susan had prized ever since the birth of her son, Peter, 2 years ago. She would do anything if it meant saving her child.
"Susan was an amazing mother," he said.
And Torres had a way with children, he added. One of his brightest
memories of her is seeing how she interacted with children on one summer trip to the beach.
"I walked in and saw Susan with about nine kids in the house, all of them under five," said Purtill. "She had them all quiet and playing
and happy. It takes a lot to keep that many kids in order but she never raised her voice."
A Catholic since her senior year at the University of Dallas, Torres also ran a parents group through St. Rita's Catholic Church in Alexandria.
"It's a heroic measure," Father Denis Donahue, pastor of St. Rita's, said of Torres' on-going struggle to bring her child into the world. "She was a delightful, very lovely person, faithful and a good Catholic."
Donahue said her family's efforts are what she would have wanted and it's also just the right thing to do.
"We're talking about a child," Donahue said. "This man loves his baby and wants to do everything he can to give it every chance of a
successful birth. She would want every step to be taken to save her
BUT KEEPING the baby alive has become a race. Torres was diagnosed, after her admission to the hospital with stage four melanoma, a cancer that had spread into her brain and gone undetected for a very long time. If it now spreads further, Purtill said, it could kill her or enter the womb. It could also terminate the pregnancy. Since entering the hospital, Torres has already overcome a bout of pneumonia and a high fever.
Jason Torres went public with his story, Purtill said, because medical bills for his wife run upwards of $1,500 a day after what her health insurance covers. Purtill helped to set up a charitable fund on the Internet — www.susantorresfund.org — that, he said, has already raised a 6-figure sum. The family wasn't even sure she would have health insurance because Torres, hired through Kelly Services, is designated an independent contractor.
Purtill said he's not surprised Susan has held on so long.
"She's strong-willed," he said. "Susan didn't take flak from anyone. She was a fairly reserved person, a private person, but she also had this acid wit that would just come out of the blue."
Purtill said Jason Torres has spent about 12 hours out of every day at the hospital since his wife was admitted. Torres declined to comment because, Purtill said, he is upset over a string of incidents that occurred during the last week between members of the national news media and his family. After talking to doctors, Purtill said the fate of the Torres' child is still uncertain.
"The cancer is progressing, how rapidly is a little hard to say," said Purtill. "It's really a race at this point."