RICHMOND, Va. – 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 (search), the woman's brother-in-law, said in a statement.
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 about two months premature and weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces. She was in the neonatal intensive care unit.
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."
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.
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.
McManus said there were no signs the cancer had crossed the placenta, which would greatly increase the baby's risk for the disease. McManus said the placenta itself is being examined for any evidence of cancer.
McManus said he is aware of no other case in which a woman afflicted with cancer has given birth while brain dead.
"She is very unique," McManus said. "We are overjoyed to be able to accomplish this goal, which three months ago seemed somewhat tenuous."
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.
Jason Torres had quit his job to be by his wife's side, spending each night sleeping in a reclining chair next to her bed.
The couple have one other child -- 2-year-old Peter, who has been staying with his grandparents.