Monday, June 27, 2005

Weary Father Left To Count the Days

"At some point last week, the people at Virginia Hospital Center gave Jason Torres a chair that reclines fully so he could more comfortably sleep by his wife's side, which was 'pretty exciting,' he said, mustering the best attitude he could.

"This was the 46th day, which was very much like the 45th day and the 44th: Susan, his 26-year-old pregnant wife, lay in her hospital bed in Arlington, brain dead, and thus by Virginia law dead, yet attached to a ventilator, IVs, tubes and monitors in the slim hope that her body could sustain the [baby] at least two more weeks before cancer reached her womb or her body just quit." ...

"By Friday, he said, life and death seemed in a tie: The melanoma had spread to Susan's lungs, but the [baby] had grown, too, and even kicked.

"In the week since Susan Torres's story became public, a relative handful of people have said it is demeaning to use her body as an incubator. Some have questioned the enormous amount of money being spent on the thinnest of hopes or cited Jason Torres's financial predicament as one more example of an inadequate health insurance system.

"Others have simply helped Jason Torres with his share of the bill, which he estimates at $300,000 or more: About $175,000 has poured in so far, $15 checks from down the street, an anonymous $15,000 one, dollars from across the country, Canada, England and Australia.

"Mostly, though, the case has been notable for its rarity, for its medical complexity and for its lack of ethics controversy. Seasoned doctors who discuss those matters finish by saying that the case of Susan Torres is just plain sad."

"The question became whether to try to keep her body functioning with machines so the [baby] could grow, an ethical scenario akin to organ donation, said Robert M. Veatch, a professor of medical ethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

"In this decision, he and others said, it is Susan Torres's desires and values, as expressed by her or as divined by her husband, that are given the most weight, in light of the [baby]'s chances of survival.

"Jason Torres said he struggled a bit initially. A Catholic, he prayed to God and yelled at God, which he still does and figures is all right, "as long as there's a dialogue." Ultimately, he said, there was no question that his wife, who converted to Catholicism and who had refused early pregnancy tests for birth defects, would have wanted to continue despite the risks to the [baby]."

"Then, of course, there is the cancer: melanoma, which is particularly insidious in that it is one of the most aggressive forms and one of the few that can penetrate the placenta."

"The melanoma has metastasized, the cancerous cells traveling through Susan Torres's bloodstream, searching for a place to grow. So far, they have found the lymph nodes under her arms and, last week, her lungs."

"'The baby, to a certain extent, has an immune system that is distinct from the mom,' said Lynn M. Schuchter, an expert in melanoma at the University of Pennsylvania. 'So it's possible if foreign cells arrive, the immune system can handle it.'"

"If his wife's body holds out until the [baby] reaches its 25th week, the earliest point at which doctors believe a premature baby has a decent chance of survival, Torres is inclined to keep going."

"There have been moments over the past week when his brother regretted talking to the media, Justin Torres said. It is difficult for the family to hear the words 'dead' and 'brain dead' over and over. But they realized that they have traded privacy for the possibility of help."

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