Jessica Warren, 31, of Aumsville, Oregon, is in awe of her 10-week-old son. She credits him for an extraordinary feat.
“Jaxson saved my life,” Jessica says of her son, adding, “and I saved his.”
Jaxson Warren was born 14 weeks early on Halloween, during an emergency cesarean section surgery at Oregon Health & Science University. His premature birth helped a large, multidisciplinary team of OHSU clinicians treat two different urgent health issues that endangered Jessica’s future as a young mother and newlywed.
Jessica, who was 26 weeks’ pregnant, came to OHSU via helicopter on Oct. 23, 2023, after physicians at referring hospital outside the Portland metro area diagnosed her with a torn aorta, the candy cane-shaped blood vessel that stems from the top of the heart. An aortic dissection is a serious condition that happens in about 2 of every 10,000 people and is most often seen in men 40s to 70s.
The OHSU team determined Jessica’s case was chronic -- meaning it had been occurring for a while -- and they could wait a few days before intervening so Jaxson would have more time to grow in the womb. On Oct. 31, surgeons helped Jaxson enter the world in an operating room.
Abdominal scans a few hours before the surgery did not reveal any problems, so the OHSU team was surprised to discover that Jessica’s bowels were also torn. After completing the C-section, they urgently switched gears and moved to her bowels. In the coming days, Jessica returned to the operating room a few more times for further bowel repair.
On Dec. 18, Jessica had her final surgery to repair her aortic artery by inserting an artificial heart valve. Following 11 long weeks at OHSU, Jessica was finally able to be discharged on Dec. 31. She and her husband, Erick Warren, are currently staying at the Ronald McDonald House in OHSU’s Rood Family Pavilion so the couple can easily visit their son, who is still hospitalized.
‘I’m not losing her, I’m not leaving her side’
Recovering from multiple surgeries took time, and Jessica wasn’t able to hold her son until about two weeks after he was born. Since then, she has visited the OHSU Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, most days. She and Erick take turns holding Jaxson while they read story books. He recognizes their voices and calms down in their arms.
Since October, Erick has alternated between sitting at Jessica’s bedside and being beside Jaxson’s NICU incubator. The couple met in September 2022 through a dating app and had were married in April 2023. Suddenly, six months later, both his wife and son were fighting for their lives.
“I waited so long for someone like Jessica to come into my life,” recalled Erick, 36. “Once I met Jessica, everything clicked. In the hospital, I said to myself, ‘I’m not losing her, I’m not leaving her side.’ Both Jessica and Jaxson needed me there.”
Under the watchful eye of his OHSU care team, Jaxson has been healing and growing. He was born with a brain bleed, but the blood is slowly being reabsorbed into his body. Jaxson has more than doubled in size: He weighed 2 pounds, 1.8 ounces at birth, and now weighs about 5 pounds, 5 ounces. To ensure he continues to improve, Jaxson will likely need to stay at OHSU through his original due date in early February.
Jessica recently learned she has a mutation in her MYH11 gene, which has been linked to aortic disease that runs in families. Some of her relatives have also experienced heart issues.
“An aortic dissection is a serious, life-threatening health emergency, but medical advancements mean we can be effectively treat it today,” said Castigliano M. Bhamidipati, D.O., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery (cardiothoracic surgery) in the OHSU School of Medicine, who was Jessica’s lead physician while she was hospitalized at OHSU.
“Many people don’t know they have gene mutations or are born with heart defects that increase their risk for an aortic dissection,” Bhamidipati added. “If heart issues run in your family or you are concerned about your heart health, please talk to your primary care provider or cardiologist about preventive steps you can take to protect your health for the long term.”
Specifically, Bhamidipati encouraged patients who have concerns about their aortic health to reach out to an aortic specialist, such as those with the OHSU Aortic Program. He also recommended that those who have genetic mutations that can impact their aortic or arterial health contact the OHSU Northwest Genetic Aortopathy and Arteriopathy multidisciplinary clinic.
Focus on family
While Jaxson continues to grow stronger in the NICU, Jessica and Erick are looking forward to building a calm and loving life together. As soon as Jessica’s health allows, they will return to work, after being without paychecks for nearly three months.
“We’ve been through a lot, but we’re still here,” Jessica said. “I’m relieved that this is almost over so we can focus on healing as a family.”
“When I look at Jessica and Jaxson, I see my heroes,” Erick said. “I’m grateful that they’re here, and forever grateful to OHSU for saving my life, because Jessica and Jaxson are my life now.”
The OHSU team involved in Jessica’s care include: nursing staff of the hospital’s cardiovascular intensive and acute care units and operating rooms, and many physicians, including those who work in cardiothoracic surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, vascular surgery, cardiac anesthesia, adult congenital cardiology, general surgery and critical care, among many other clinicians. Physicians, physician assistants, nurses and other clinicians with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital continue to care for Jaxson.