RICHMOND, Va. – A brain-dead pregnant woman on life support has reached the milestone in her pregnancy where doctors believe the baby could realistically survive outside the womb, giving her family renewed hope about the devastating ordeal.
Susan Torres (search), 26, lost consciousness from a stroke May 7 after aggressive melanoma spread to her brain. Her husband, Jason Torres, said doctors told him his wife's brain functions had stopped.
Her fetus recently passed the 24th week of development — the earliest point at which doctors felt the baby would have a reasonable chance to survive, her brother-in-law said.
"The situation is pretty stable," said Justin Torres (search), who is serving as the family's spokesman. "Susan, we have said from the beginning, is the toughest person in that ICU room."
He said the family is "as certain within the limits of sonogram technology" that the baby is a girl. "Cecilia" was one possible name the couple had discussed, Justin Torres said.
A Web site was set up to help raise money for the family's mounting medical bills, and they have now received about $400,000 in donations, Torres said. Jason Torres (search) quit his job as a printing salesman to be by his wife's side and the family must pay tens of thousands of dollars each week that insurance does not cover.
Donations have poured in from around the world: Germany, Britain, Ireland, Japan — even a check with no note from a soldier in Iraq. On Monday, the family received a hand-knit baby blanket from a woman in Pennsylvania who was on a tight income but wanted to do something to help.
Jason Torres spends every night sleeping in a reclining chair next to his wife's bed at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, which has declined to comment on the case. The couple's 2-year-old son, Peter, is staying with grandparents. He has not seen his mother, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, since her collapse.
If possible, the doctors hope to hold off on delivering the child until 32 weeks' gestation, Justin Torres said. A full-term pregnancy is about 40 weeks.
The melanoma has spread to her lymph nodes and taken over her vital organs, but they continue to function. There is a chance the cancer could spread to the placenta, but so far it has been spared, Justin Torres said. Extra precautions, including limiting the number of visitors, have recently been taken to help her avoid infections.
Doctors have held off on giving the family a prognosis because the situation is so rare, said Torres, who believes his sister-in-law will likely hang on for a few more weeks.
Aside from the tubes and machines she is hooked up to, the tall and athletic Torres looks remarkably well, her brother-in-law said.
"She would have wanted us to fight for this baby — there's no doubt in our minds," Justin Torres said.
The family received an unexpected sliver of joy on June 21, when Jason Torres felt his child kick for the first time.
"It was a very, very nice reminder of what this is all about, and very heartening to us to know that we're making progress and that we're getting closer and closer," the brother-in-law said. "That was a very good day for everyone."