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.