Former US Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during the final day of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, La.
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Rick Santorum opens up about disabled daughter

In 2012, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum suspended his campaign for the GOP nomination for president when his youngest child, Bella, became seriously ill. Now, the Santorums are opening up about their daughter in a new book out on Tuesday, and they say she’s doing much better – so well, in fact, that another presidential run may be possible for Santorum in 2016. 

“She’s on a great routine right now and she’s doing really really well, so it’s frankly not as big a concern for us this time around as last time,” Rick Santorum said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” But, you know, we have a lot of other factors to consider in making that decision. But with respect to Bella, we feel good enough to actually go out and tell the story and put the book out there with a lot of confidence.”

“Bella’s Gift,” written by Rick and Karen Santorum and their teenage daughter Elizabeth Santorum, chronicles the family’s story of raising now six-year-old Bella Santorum, who was born with a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18. Most Trisomy 18 patients, who are born with an extra 18th chromosome, are not expected to live beyond their first birthday. Half of Trisomy 18 patients do not survive more than 10 days. 

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Santorum writes about child's rare disorder

Rick Santorum is releasing a new book talking about the struggles he went through after his severaly disabled youngest child was born. The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty joins to discuss.

The timing of the book is noteworthy. As the 2016 primary approaches, potential 2016ers have already started routinely rolling out sparkling new hardcover books – often deemed a rite of passage for a presidential candidate. But while many of the books are heavily political, taking strong stances on debated issues such as foreign policy or immigration, and outlining personal brands, the Santorums’ book promises to offer a more humanizing portrait of the former senator and his family. 

“This book was really written for parents who have kids with disabilities. That’s why it is so transparent,” she said. “When you talk to each and every one of these parents, the message is that every person matters. It’s a beautiful message,” Karen Santorum told host George Stephanopoulos Sunday.

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But the Santorums weren’t always comfortable talking about Bella and their struggles. At a 2011 campaign event, Rick Santorum told the audience that when Bella was first born, because of her short life expectancy, he felt at the time that “the best thing I could do was to treat her differently and not love her” as much as his other children, convinced that doing so would mean that “it wouldn’t hurt as much if I lost her.” In an interview this weekend with The Washington Post, Karen Santorum revealed that at the time she had been furious with her husband, who had promised to shield their daughter from the campaign spotlight. That event was the first time he had spoken publicly about their daughter and her struggles. 

In the book, Santorum reveals an emotional moment when he was assembling a crib for Bella with his teenage daughter, Elizabeth, and told Elizabeth to save the box because “we just don’t know how long Bella is going to be here.” Instantly remorseful, he writes: “I wish I could take those words back, because I’ll never forget the way she looked at me, as though I had not only hurt her but condemned Bella myself.”

In the 2012 election, Santorum was an outspoken conservative who attracted attention for his comments on social issues such as abortion, contraception, and health care. He had previously spoken out against contraception and against abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest. In an interview with NBC News last month, he blamed his 2012 loss on his saying “dumb things” about “crazy stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with anything.” He has indicated that if he runs again in 2016, he will pivot to focus more on economic issues than social ones. 

Santorum has previously authored four books, most recently “Blue Collar Conservatives,” which was released in 2014.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum opens up about disabled daughter