Will He Stay or Will He Go?

I can think of few crosses heavier to bear than being the parent of a mentally or physically disabled child. There isn’t a day or an hour that goes by in which mother or father aren’t temporarily gripped by panic when a moment’s contemplation of what the future holds for the child unleashes a flood of anguished uncertainty – and that’s in the course of a normal workaday life. But what if the father happens to be one of four men vying for the GOP presidential nomination? The primary is a contest that tries the candidates’ spirits in a boiling cauldron which consumes the weakest, tempers the strongest and tolerates no distractions of any kind.

Unfortunately for Rick Santorum, a distraction of heartbreaking proportions has surfaced: his disabled daughter Bella was recently hospitalized:

Republican Rick Santorum is staying home in Philadelphia to be with this hospitalized daughter and is canceling campaign stops in Florida.

Santorum’s campaign says the former senator will stay in Pennsylvania with 3-year-old Bella, who has a genetic condition known as Trisomy 18. The condition typically proves fatal and Santorum often says his daughter wasn’t expected to live past 12 months.

Spokesman Hogan Gidley says Santorum hopes to return to a campaign schedule soon.

Santorum canceled his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and a stop at a Miami church.

Santorum is sending his 20-year-old daughter Elizabeth to Sarasota and Punta Gorda for campaign appearances on later Sunday.

Trisomy 18 – also known as Edwards Syndrome – is a devastating congenital disorder:

Trisomy 18 is caused by the presence of three – as opposed to two – copies of chromosome 18 in a fetus’s or infant’s cells. Edwards’ syndrome occurs in around one in 6,000 live births and around 80 per cent of those affected are female. The majority of fetuses with the syndrome die before birth. The incidence increases as the mother’s age increases. The syndrome has a very low rate of survival, resulting from heart abnormalities, kidney malformations, and other internal organ disorders.


Infants born with Edwards syndrome may have some or all of the following characteristics: kidney malformations, structural heart defects at birth (i.e., ventricular septal defect, atrial septal defect, patent ductus arteriosus), intestines protruding outside the body (omphalocele), esophageal atresia, mental retardation, developmental delays, growth deficiency, feeding difficulties, breathing difficulties, and arthrogryposis (a muscle disorder that causes multiple joint contractures at birth).

While my heart goes out to Rick Santorum and my prayers go out to Heaven for Bella’s speedy recovery, my head wonders if he isn’t doing some serious soul-searching today: his disabled child is in the hospital, forcing him to suspend his Florida campaign just 72 hours before the Tuesday vote. He knows there is no way he can win the primary in that state and a 20 year-old daughter is hardly an adequate surrogate for his campaign. He also knows that funds are running low and his ground organization is practically nil.

I suppose his decision will be based largely on Bella’s medical prognosis: if she recovers quickly and is discharged in the next couple of days, he may decide to remain in the race – although it’s anyone’s guess how far he’ll go after Florida, given the lack of both funding and a campaign organization. On the other hand, if Bella remains hospitalized any longer than a week, it’s doubtful he can stay in the race as an effective candidate, as I cannot imagine him leaving her side, in which case he will likely suspend his campaign indefinitely.

I realize this analysis must sound cold and unfeeling and I apologize to the reader if that impression occurs. It is not my intention to minimize or trivialize poor Bella’s condition, much less insinuate that her hospitalization is somehow a good thing. It is a tragic thing and I know whereof I speak: just six months after she was born, my daughter Claudia developed a very high fever and was hospitalized for week in the intensive care unit. At one point, the physicians feared that her condition was caused by meningitis and prepared us for the worst. For a week, her mother stayed at her side and though I was obliged to go to work every day, all of my evenings were spent at the hospital. While Claudia recovered completely, that week was, without question, the single worst week of my life.

That said, the situation is what it is and I would be remiss in my duty as a pundit if I did not discuss it. If Bella’s condition does not improve soon, there is a very good likelihood that Santorum will drop out of the race, which means that the conservative faction will no longer be split between Santorum and Gingrich (forget about Ron Paul, who is not a conservative but a libertarian). The question necessarily arises as to what will become of Santorum’s supporters, almost all of whom are of the “anyone but Romney” sentiment. My guess is that a small percentage of them will defect to the Ron Paul campaign while a smaller percentage may throw their lot in with Romney. The vast majority, however, will likely join the ranks of those who support Newt Gingrich. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them have already anticipated Santorum’s eventual departure and decided to cast their ballots for Gingrich.

If this is the case, the electoral balance in Florida could very well spell out a razor thin Gingrich victory. Even if Newt loses winner-take-all-delegates Florida, the rest of the states proportion the delegates and there is a good possibility he can make up the deficit in the coming months.

But all this is nothing more than speculation. For now, Bella is all that matters: let us pray she recovers quickly.

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3 Responses to Will He Stay or Will He Go?

  1. josephine says:

    I lost my first born when he was 7 weeks old. His twin brother was hospitalized for 5 months total. I was there about 18 hours a day (napped at the hospital) the first 7 weeks. 4 times a day they checked “blood gasses” and gave me a report on their chances to live for that day. After those 7 weeks were over I spent the next 3 months there from about 9 to about 6 everyday. My husband was a self employed young atty. No corporation to give him leave of absence. I was 25. My husband hid from William and John and from me. He was afraid I guess. My surviving son is now 35, handsome and extremely smart and healthy.I have written this part without emotion on purpose.
    Rick Santorum not only has his baby to think of, but he has his wife and other children. I could not imagine being alone everyday for days no matter if my husband was running for president or king of the world. There is a point where it becomes unhealthy to withstand pain and responsibility by yourself. And pride is a sin. There is a union in good marriages that can not be described. It requires the two to be selfless and mature and face the problems in life. I have seen the Santorums face the death of a baby with what I think was a beautiful and loving way. I don’t know if Bella is in danger of dying. I don’t know much about Down’s Syndrome. I do know that some children do real well and then some don’t.
    Rick is a brave and gallant man. For all of his “ways” I can’t help but adore him and I was so proud the way he stood up to Romney and saved the debate. I think he must know he will not get the nomination, surely he knows. He does seem to have a lot of pride and that may interfere. I hope he stays home and takes care of his family. If God has plans for him, there will be a better time.
    My husband and I eventually divorced. There were 2 more boys born. Their father forsook God for causing the death of our baby, and he never accepted the rest of us as his family. I left him after 20 years. It has been 22 years now and neither one of us have married again.
    I believe a marriage is a union of 2 souls plus God, we didn’t have that. I think the Santorums probably do. I hope so.

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  3. HeleneH says:

    Being the mother of a child with multiple disabilities I was taken back by your first sentence. Although I don’t believe you meant to offend, it still stings when others consider your child a heavy cross to bear.

    I don’t think you, or many others, have an understanding of the strength of a family who has experienced some of the most difficult/painful challenges in life. I don’t wish that knowledge on you or anyone. The loss of a child or having a child with an illness &/or disability is enough to tear most families apart. The Santorum family has met both these challenges & so has mine.

    Santorum is not the typical candidate, he has a much different perspective on things. I recommend you take a look at “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Work Kingsley