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Rick Santorum Daughter Bella Santorum

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Rick Santorum and Bella Santorum

Republican Rick Santorum holds his youngest child, Isabella, before announcing his candidacy for the 2012 presidential nomination.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images News

Rick Santorum's daughter Isabella Maria Santorum is the youngest of seven children born to the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and his wife Karen. An eighth child died shortly after birth in 1996.

Isabella, or "Bella," was born in 2008 with a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. Most children born with the condition do not live beyond the first year of their lives. Santorum often refers to his daughter's survival as a miracle.

Bella made news during the 2012 election because she was unexpectedly hospitalized during the protracted battle for the Republican nomination. Santorum briefly suspended his campaign over the Easter weekend to spend time with Bella.

Santorum Daughter in 2012 Election

Santorum mentioned his daughter frequently in debates and on the campaign trail, saying he struggled with the decision to run for president because of her.

"Karen and I have struggled to discern whether God could possibly want us to do that, particularly in light of the fact that our youngest daughter, Isabella Maria, who we call Bella, is a very special girl who needs a lot of care," Santorum said in a video posted on his campaign website.

Santorum also defended his decision to mount a campaign with a sick child at home, saying: "I feel like I wouldn’t be a good dad if I wasn’t out here fighting for a country that would see the dignity in her and every other child."

Birth and Diagnosis

Santorum has said medical experts told the family shortly after Bella's birth that her life expectancy "was a matter of hours and days."

"They told us she had a fatal condition and was going to die," Santorum said at a 2012 Republican presidential debates.

"When she was born we knew something was wrong but we didn't know what it was," Santorum said in his campaign video. "And it wasn't until five days later that they came back and told Karen and me that she had a rare disorder called Trisomy 18, which is similar to Down syndrome.

Anger at Prognosis

Santorum described being angry at the doctors who told him his daughter would likely die shortly after his family brought her home from the hospital.

"We were told at the diagnosis that Bella's life expectancy was a matter of hours and days. And so we felt blessed that we had Bella. But yet we were told by the medical community that, 'Why do anything? Just let her go. She's not going to be able to do much. She's not going to be able to be like normal children and so you should just let her go,'" Santorum said.

"It angered us to hear that because she was our daughter like every other one of our children and we were not going to let her go. Now we understand that her life is going to be different than our other children. But we felt that we owed her the opportunity, a chance, to do as well as she could," Santorum said.

Trisomy 18 Disorder

A child born with Trisomy 18 has three chromosomes in one position instead of the normal two, according to the Trisomy 18 Foundation. Most humans have 46 chromosomes. Children with Trisomy 18 are born with an extra 18th chromosome, causing the problems associated with the disorder.

Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome, occurs in about one in every 3,000 live births, according to the foundation.

Only 5 percent to 10 percent of infants diagnosed with Trisomy 18 survive beyond their first year of life, according to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children with Trisomy 18 often have severe developmental delays and health problems including heart defects, kidney abnormalities and delayed growth.

2012 Hospitalizations

Bella was was unexpectedly hospitalized on April 6, 2012, during the 2012 Republican nomination contest. Santorum canceled campaign appearances for several days to be with his daughter.

It was the second time Bella had been hospitalized during the campaign. She was treated in January 2012 for pneumonia in both of her lungs. Bella was 3 years old at the time.

Santorum told The Washington Post earlier in the campaign that his daughter's health could change quickly. "You think she’s fine, and then one cold and she’s this close to dying," Santorum said.

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