A tiny baby girl born Tuesday morning to a brain-dead Alexandria woman is unexpectedly healthy despite being born 13 weeks premature, a team of exuberant doctors at Virginia Hospital Center said yesterday.
“At 27 weeks, statistically, she has an excellent chance,” said Dr. Donna Tilden-Archer, the director of neonatology at the Arlington hospital. “She kicked so vigorously, I almost lost an IV I was putting into her foot.”
Although the mortality rate for children born that early is 10 percent, she added, the 1-pound, 13-ounce Susan Anne Catherine Torres is breathing on her own.
Plus, the placenta was free of the cancer that killed her mother, Susan Torres, 26.
Mrs. Torres had been kept alive on life support since she collapsed May 7 of a brain hemorrhage caused by advanced melanoma. She died yesterday morning, about 24 hours after giving birth, after husband, Jason Torres, told the hospital to disconnect her life support.
Just before she died, family members gathered by her bed to sing “Hail, Holy Queen,” a prayer from the rosary, and for Last Rites.
“We were ‘mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,’” said Justin Torres, the mother’s brother-in-law, quoting the hymn. “That is what today was for us.”
The Rev. Paul Scalia of St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, the Torres’ home parish, had already baptized the child. He performed the Last Rites for the mother.
Doctors said the birth could be a historic first, as there were no known cases of a brain-dead woman — who was also stricken with melanoma — producing a child.
“I think it was a very unique situation,” said Dr. Christopher McManus, the physician coordinating the mother’s care. “That combination [of brain death and melanoma], I’m not aware of any others like that.”
By Monday night, doctors said, the mother’s condition appeared to be deteriorating fast.
A tumor atop her kidney was growing quickly, her heartbeat was getting irregular, and her blood pressure was rising, as was her white-blood-cell count, signifying an infection.
Plans were made to deliver the child at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Jason Torres was called in, as were his wife’s parents, Paul and Sandy Rollin.
As Mrs. Torres was wheeled out of the intensive-care unit into an operating room, they waited nearby.
At 8:18 a.m., Susan Anne Catherine, named for her mother and a grandmother, was born via Caesarean section. A pediatric cardiologist in the delivery room determined that her heart function was good. The family was allowed to see the girl before she was rushed to the neonatal intensive-care unit.
Dr. Tilden-Archer, who was also present at the birth, said the 13-inch girl let out “a very sweet cry.”
“She fought me when I tried to establish an airway,” the doctor said. “She was very vigorous and still is. We are ecstatic … that she appears to be healthy.”
Because the placenta was cancer-free, chances were good that the child had not contacted melanoma from her mother. Of the 19 known cases of melanoma in a pregnant woman, five have been transmitted to the child, Dr. McManus said.
Still, it will be six months to a year before the family will know whether the baby is cancer-free, he added.
He praised the family for their tenacity and called Mrs. Torres “a remarkable woman.”
“I hope they take solace in the fact that her giving her life for the birth of this baby is the best one can do for another human being,” he said.
Justin Torres said the newborn looked like her blond, curly-haired 2-year-old brother, Peter.
“It was a wonderful day to see her,” he said of the birth. “When I saw her in the intensive-care unit, she gave a nice kick.
“But we knew what was coming next. This morning was very difficult, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to celebrate the baby.”
But, he added, “Children are always to be fought for, even if life requires — as it did of Susan — the last full measure of devotion.”