Baby Susan Torres Mourned 6 Weeks After Her Mother
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The efforts to sustain a mother's dying body to save the life of her unborn child — only to see that baby die too — may seem a waste. But to those who can see through faith-filled eyes, the ultimate victory has been attained, said Father Paul Scalia.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” the priest said, quoting St. Paul at the funeral Mass of 5-week, 5-day-old Susan Anne Catherine Torres. The baby was born two months prematurely to Susan Rollin Torres, a woman who was kept on life support for three months in order to give her child a chance to be born.
“Susan was kept alive,” said Father Scalia, associate pastor of St. Rita's Church in Alexandria, “not so that the baby could grow up and attend Harvard University or become a world-renowned tennis pro, but so that the baby could become a child of God.”
Father Scalia baptized baby Susan immediately after she was born Aug. 2 at 1 pound, 13 ounces. Susan Rollin Torres was then taken off life support and died. She was buried Aug. 6.
Shortly before baby Susan died on Sept. 11, Father Denis Donohue, pastor of St. Rita's, blessed her with a relic of St. Teresa of Avila. The baby did not receive the anointing of the sick because the sacrament is not required for children under the age of reason, since they're incapable of committing mortal sin. Baby Susan was buried on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Her birth had been carefully timed — late enough so she would be viable outside the womb, but before her mother's spreading cancer could affect her. She escaped the melanoma that killed her mother, and baby Susan seemed to thrive after her birth, giving the Torres family optimism that she would one day celebrate a homecoming in which she would join her father, Jason, and 2-year-old brother, Peter.
But in the early morning hours of Sept. 10, her condition declined suddenly and rapidly due to necrotizing enterocolitis, a common complication of prematurity that essentially causes the tissues of the digestive tract to die. The condition also caused an infection and intestinal perforations. She was transferred to Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where specialists went to work on her tiny body.
“The team initially tried to medically stabilize her, but ultimately performed two surgeries. Unfortunately, she was too sick and fragile to recover, and we were unable to save her,” said a hospital statement.
When it became evident that there was no way to save baby Susan's life, she was disconnected from all medical means of support and placed into the arms of her father, Jason Torres, where she died peacefully at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 11.
“This is shocking, really shocking,” said Justin Torres, Jason's brother. “At 6 p.m. Friday, she seemed to be doing just great. By 3 a.m. Saturday, the entire picture had changed and by Sunday morning she was gone.”
The unexpected grief of baby Susan's death is still not enough to shake the conviction of the Torres family that all life is worth fighting for regardless of its length or the odds against it.
“Obviously, we regret the outcome. But we don't regret trying [to save baby Susan's life]. We would have done exactly the same thing even if we had known the outcome ahead of time. We wouldn't have done a single thing different in retrospect,” Justin Torres said.
On May 7, Susan Torres, a 26-year-old researcher at the National Institutes of Health, collapsed in her Arlington home after a metastasized melanoma had spread to her brain, causing a stroke that left her without brain function. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time, and doctors believed she had little chance of survival. Her husband decided to try to keep her body alive with life support systems so that the baby could survive.
Having quit his job as a commercial printing salesman in order to stay by his wife's side, Jason appealed to the national media for help raising the more than $400,000 in medical costs that would be left uncovered by insurance. The Susan M. Torres Fund was established by the local council of the Knights of Columbus (of which Jason is a member) and the website www.susantorresfund.org was launched.
The family's story gained worldwide attention, and donations, letters, packages, e-mails and prayers flowed in from around the globe.
“A life like this can have an impact on all our lives,” said Mercy Schlapp, a long-time family friend. “The outpouring of love and generosity from throughout the world testifies to that.
The Torres family's faith, devotion to family, and their selfless love of both Susan and the baby have affected all of us. The message that they share is God's message that every life is so important and precious that we do everything we can to save it.”
A statement on the Susan M. Torres Fund website said, “With great sadness, we are asking for your prayers for the repose of the soul of 5-week-old baby Susan Anne Torres. She passed away last night after surgery for a perforated intestine. Please include in your prayers a request for the peace and comfort of her family, especially Jason Torres, who has had a very difficult past several months.”
During the homily at the funeral Mass for Susan Rollin Torres, Father Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, quoted Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “God does not ask us to be successful; he asks us to be faithful.”
“In the case of Susan Torres and her baby,” he said, “we were both.”
Baby Susan was buried next to her mother. The family declined to disclose the location.
Marge Fenelon is based in Cudahy, Wisconsin.
- September 25-Oct. 1, 2005