After ordeal, new parents look forward to New Year as a family

The first time Jessica Warren remembers seeing her newborn son, she was gettering ready to go under the knife again. He was so small.

“The whole surrealism didn’t hit me until seeing him and touching him, realizing that like ‘oh my god, I’m a mom now,’” she said. “That was my son, and I get to be proud of him and show him to the world.”

That was early November. Months later, Warren and her husband, Erick Warren, sat side-by-side on an OHSU hospital bed after an open heart surgery, emergency c-section and weeks of not knowing whether their son, born four months premature, would live.

Stitches snake up under Jessica’s throat and across her chest. When she speaks, Erick looks at her like he’s grateful for each word. 

“I’m 36 years old, and I waited to get married because I knew that person for me was out there,” he said. “Once I found Jessica it was like everything just clicked. And when this all happened it was like ‘I’m not losing this person, I can’t lose this person I’ve waited so long for them.”

The couple met on Tinder last October. Erick said he was a goner during their first date at a little bar in McMinnville, when he saw her dimples. They talked for hours, and then talked on the phone into the night for the weeks after, despite his 4 a.m. wake-up calls for his job as a building inspector in Corvallis. 

Jessica, who does hair at Sport Clips in Salem, said she fell for him more as they talked. She knew she loved him by the second date.

“It just felt right,” she said.

They eloped to Las Vegas in April. Two months later, they found out she was pregnant.

Jessica and Erick Warren in Las Vegas, where they eloped in April 2023 (Courtesy/ Warren family)

In the weeks before Halloween, Jessica started having severe abdominal pain. She was told it was normal for a pregnancy, but it only worsened. 

She went to the emergency room at Salem Hospital on Oct. 23. A CT scan revealed that a major artery in her heart had torn. 

Doctors told her it was time to get on a Life Flight to prepare to deliver her baby at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She was only 25 weeks pregnant. 

Erick sped down the highway to follow her.

At 3 a.m. Oct. 31, they did another CT scan, which didn’t show anything unexpected. Suddenly, Erick said, the machine monitoring their son’s vitals showed his heart rate drop from 170 to 40. 

“They’re like ‘we got to get him out, something’s going on,’” he said. He remembered them flipping the lights in the room on and rushing his wife away.

“She was gone within like 30 seconds,” he said. 

An emergency c-section revealed that her bowels had perforated, meaning there were deadly tears in her small intestine requiring immediate tending. 

Erick said he was terrified of the unknown. His mom later told him he’d been standing there with a look on his face she’d never seen before. 

“I could have lost my wife and my child in the same day,” he said. 

Their son was delivered and her organs were repaired by a team that included obstetrics, cardiothoracic surgery, vascular surgery, general surgery, anesthesia and congenital cardiology. Without the c-section, her perforated bowels may have gone undetected.

“It was kind of like my son and I saved each other’s lives, during that procedure,” she said.

Jaxson was born on Halloween, weighing 2 pounds, 1.8 ounces. He was born with grade 4 brain bleeding, the most severe and with risk of death, and he had been deprived of oxygen. 

He’s since doubled in size, and a scan on Thursday revealed there had been no new bleeding and he’s recovering on track. He’s growing, he’s fussing and the nurses say he has a best friend in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that acts up at the same time as him.

Jaxson’s parents have been reading to him. The first book was “Is Your Mama a Llama?” which Jessica’s mom read to her when she was small. She can tell her voice calms him down.

“It kind of just hits you with those feels of a circle of life happening and repeating again,” she said.

Jaxson Warren was born on Halloween, 2023, weighing 2 pounds, 1.8 ounces (Courtesy/ Warren Family)

Jessica underwent another, hopefully final, surgery on Dec. 18 to repair her aorta. Her doctor wanted her body to recover between procedures, which she said helped. She was able to walk the next day. 

The couple had just had their gender reveal party when Jessica went to the hospital. They hadn’t yet had a baby shower, and didn’t have time to get a stroller, car seat or prepare the nursery.

When they get to go home to Aumsville, it will be a huge celebration. They’ll hold a welcome home party for Jaxson, who may need to stay in the hospital until closer to the original due date, in early February. Both Jessica’s parents live in Dayton. Erick’s mom lives close by in west Salem, and has set up a GoFundMe for the couple’s medical bills.

“It’ll be like finally making up for everything then, and we can have everything to start finally being a family and have everything ready for our baby,” she said.

Jessica has a gene mutation that increases her chances of having heart problems, and heart issues run in the family. The ordeal prompted Jessica’s mom to start doing precautionary cardiac care.

They’re hopeful Jessica may be able to be discharged by this weekend. She said the experience taught her never to take her health, or anything, for granted. 

Erick has been staying with Jessica all day, every day, throughout her hospital stay. Between visits to Jaxson, they go to the terrace for fresh air, eat in the cafeteria and sleep.

“I told her ‘I’m not leaving. There’s nothing that can get me to leave this hospital,’” he said. “She’s my world, and she just needs to stay here with me. That’s all it is. And now we have Jaxson.”

“It’s like we’re complete,” Jessica said.

Correction: Jessica first held Jaxson in early November, not late October, and an earlier version of this story misspelled Erick’s name in some places. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Avatar photo

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.