Woman kept alive in hopes of saving baby

By Richard Willing, USA TODAY Thu Jun 16, 6:55 AM ET

A 26-year-old pregnant woman with cancer whose brain function ceased last month is being kept alive with a respirator in hopes she can have a very premature baby who has a chance to survive.
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Susan Torres, a researcher at the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), lost consciousness May 7 when an undiagnosed brain tumor caused a stroke while she dined at home. Her husband, Jason Torres, says doctors told him Susan's brain functions have stopped.

Torres, also 26, says he decided to keep Susan on life support when doctors at Virginia Hospital Center here offered him the chance to disconnect the machines after they determined that she would not recover. He says he believes this is what his wife would have wanted...

Against long odds, the baby Susan was carrying when she was stricken appears to be thriving after nearly 21 weeks of gestation, Torres says. If she can stay alive another month, and the cancer stays away from her uterus, the baby could be delivered and have a chance of surviving, he says. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Peter...

Since 1977, at least nine comatose women have given birth in the USA, according to research by the University of Connecticut's medical center. Women with aggressive melanoma, the skin cancer that spread to Susan's brain, have borne children in reported cases in the USA, the United Kingdom and Canada, though not all survived...

Susan had first developed melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, as a teenager in Houston, but had been cancer-free for nearly nine years.

So when Susan began to have headaches and nausea early last month, Torres says, there was no reason to suspect it was anything more than the miseries of early pregnancy. On May 6, the couple made an emergency room visit, where Susan was rehydrated, fed some bland crackers and sent home to rest.

The next night, while he was feeding Susan, "she just stopped," Torres says. Using techniques he had learned as a lifeguard, Torres restarted his wife's breathing. Emergency medical technicians arrived in minutes. Four hours later, a still-dazed Torres was standing outside an operating room and hearing from a neurosurgeon that cancer had invaded Susan's brain.

A day after, when it was clear Susan had survived surgery, Torres faced an agonizing choice: keeping his wife on life support, with a slim chance of producing a live though perhaps disabled baby, or allowing her to die...

Torres' goal is for Susan and the baby to reach the 30-week mark, when such risks are greatly diminished.

Torres knows that the baby's delivery date, when and if it comes, will be bittersweet. After the baby is born, Susan's body will be anointed in the Catholic tradition, and she'll be allowed to die...

Woman kept alive in hopes of saving baby