The story of Susan Torres blanketed the local DC media for most of the summer. On May 7 of this year Mrs. Torres, aged 26, suffered a stroke caused by malignant melanoma and was pronounced brain dead. At that time, she was 17 weeks pregnant. There was absolutely no hope that Mrs. Torres would recover, but her family decided to continue life support in the hope that she could be kept alive long enough to safely deliver her unborn daughter. That daughter, named Susan Anne Catherine, was delivered on August 2nd, and Mrs. Torres died a day later after being removed from life support. Susan Anne Catherine was still more than two months premature, weighed less than two pounds, and although as healthy as could be expected under the circumstances, was still in a precarious state.
Insurance for the Torres family didn't begin to cover Mrs. Torres's hospital bill, never mind the costs of neo-natal intensive care once Susan Anne Catherine was delivered. In the face of initial estimates that $400,000 in unreimbursed costs would be incurred, a blogosphere-driven fund drive raised $600,000.
Susan Anne Catherine Torres died yesterday, when her heart failed after emergency surgery to repair a perforated intestine. She was five weeks old. May she rest in peace, in company with her mother and all the saints and angels, in the eternal light of God.
The Torres case is an extreme example of a facet of American medicine that is widely misunderstood. We are constantly criticized for spending more than other countries on health care, yet our infant mortality rate is higher. Nick Kristof's been beating this drum for months; first we were lagging behind Cuba and China, then he couldn't even write about Hurricane Katrina without dragging the dead babies back into it. But consider this: when this year's health expenditures are totalled up, they will be a couple of million dollars higher, and when this year's infant mortality statistics are calculated, there will be one more infant in the numerator, all because the Torres family, and their friends and supporters, cared so much about one unborn child that they expended every resource they could muster to give her one unlikely chance at life, a chance that ultimately failed.
Susan Anne Catherine Torres is just one case, but according to the CDC, not an isolated one: when asked to investigate the reason that infant mortality increased in 2002, for the first time in several decades, they discovered that the number of extremely-low-birth-weight infants born alive has increased dramatically. In most countries, these children would be stillborn. Here, they usually die soon after birth, despite our best efforts. It makes no sense to unfavorably compare a country that tries to save lives with those who give up without trying.