5-Week-Old Born in N.Va. To Comatose Mother Dies

Jason Torres slept at the bedside of his comatose wife for three months before their daughter, Susan, was born. His wife died a day later.
Jason Torres slept at the bedside of his comatose wife for three months before their daughter, Susan, was born. His wife died a day later. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Susan Anne Catherine Torres, whose mother was declared brain-dead and kept on life-support for three months so she could be born, died early yesterday. She was 5 weeks and 5 days old.

The baby contracted a disease that can afflict premature infants, which led to an infection and a perforated intestine that finally overwhelmed her tiny body, according to hospital officials and the baby's uncle, Justin Torres, whose only public words yesterday were the ones he wrote.

"After the efforts of this summer to bring her into the world, this is obviously a devastating loss," he said in a statement.

"It was our fondest wish that we could have been able to share Susan's homecoming with the world," he wrote.

The long and sad medical odyssey that captivated thousands of strangers began in May, when the child's mother and namesake, Susan Rollin Torres of Arlington, was stricken with a cancerous brain tumor. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time, and although doctors at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington gave her no chance of survival, her husband, Jason, and her parents agreed to try to keep her body alive with ventilators and machines so her baby might survive.

Despite the longest of odds, the baby was born by Caesarean section Aug. 2, about two months premature. Her mother, a 26-year-old researcher at the National Institutes of Health, was taken off the machines and died the next day.

At the time, doctors said that the infant's prognosis was good and that at 1 pound 13 ounces she appeared "vigorous," even as she faced the obstacles of a premature birth.

A preliminary examination found that the melanoma that took her mother's life had not reached the placenta, and as the weeks passed, the child continued to grow.

This weekend, however, her condition deteriorated suddenly and rapidly, and she was transferred Saturday from the hospital in Arlington, where she had remained since her birth, to Children's Hospital in the District. She had developed necrotizing enterocolitis, essentially tissue death in the digestive tract. Doctors tried to stabilize her medically and performed two emergency surgeries, but it was all too much for the infant.

"Unfortunately, she was too sick and fragile to recover," the hospital said in a statement, "and we were unable to save her."

She died at 12:01 a.m. yesterday, and sadness was heaped upon sadness.

Jason Torres, who with his wife also has a 2-year-old son, Peter, decided to go to reporters with his wife's ordeal in May, in the hope that he might get some help with staggering medical bills. Over the summer, the story of Susan Torres was broadcast across television and in newspapers, over the Internet and in chains of e-mails that stretched around the globe.

Because they had been through something similar, because they admired Jason Torres's faith or just felt for him -- for reasons they couldn't always pinpoint -- droves of people sent letters, prayers, advice, pictures of their premature sons and daughters, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Torres family. Yesterday, it seemed, all of their hearts broke, including Daniel Moreau's. He was in his office when he learned of the infant's death on CNN.

"Oh," he said, sitting there all alone.

Over the summer, he tried to put his finger on why the family's ordeal had gotten to him. He doesn't have children and at first thought it might just be the human wish for life to go on forever. He decided, though, that "was TV movie stuff" and looked more deeply.

Then he remembered how he had come into the world, a story his family had told him many times growing up, like a sort of parable.

He had pneumonia when he was 2 months old, and doctors in his little home town had given up. But his father, who died when he was 4, did not, and his father and a friend jumped into an ambulance and raced to Buffalo, where doctors finally were able to revive him.

"I realized that in my own life, someone had fought for me," Moreau said, his voice splintering. "I realized, 'My God, that's why.' "

The dense center of support the past few months was St. Rita's Catholic Church in Alexandria, where the Torreses are members and where the Rev. Denis M. Donahue told parishioners of the death at 7 a.m. Mass yesterday.

"I just let everyone know that someone for whom we've been praying for the last months for survival had died," he said, "and that the consolation is that she is with the Lord and free of suffering."

Looking out onto the pews, Donahue said he could see the faces change. A man made the sign of the cross.

Later in the day, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde issued a statement.

"At this painful moment of redoubled loss, we commend Jason and the entire Torres family to the Lord in prayer," it said.

"May the Lord draw close to the Torres family at this time and provide them with comfort and peace where words fail."


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