Jessica Corpron sat on the couch in her parents’ Kalispell, Mont., living room opening gifts late Christmas morning when her right arm began to twitch. Her body convulsed in a sudden, violent seizure. She stiffened, turned gray and passed out.
Her father, Jay, turned Jessica on her side and adjusted her head so the 19-year-old wouldn’t choke on her tongue. Her mother, Roni, dialed 9-1-1.
Jessica, who’d never had a seizure before, doesn’t remember many details from the chaotic hours that followed, but one stood out. Doctors surprised the tall, slim college freshman with stunning news:
She was more than 7 months pregnant.
As freshmen frequently do, she’d put on 15 pounds during her first term at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. She didn’t feel particularly good, but attributed her headache, sinus pain and puffy face to a winter cold. She still had regular menstrual periods. How could she be pregnant?
But her mother had suspected as much, and when the paramedics asked Roni Corpron if it was possible, she told them yes. At the hospital in Kalispell, doctors felt a bean-shaped mass on the left side of Jessica’s abdomen and asked her the same question.
Her mother remembers Jessica saying, “I don’t think so.”
Jordan Lister was eating biscuits and gravy at his family’s home in Kalispell on Christmas morning when Jessica’s father called. Jordan jumped in his Ford-150 pickup and sped toward the hospital.
He and Jessica, who have dated for more than three years, met when she was 15 – a year before Jessica’s parents would allow her to date. She was quiet and reserved, as he is, played soccer, as he does, and was drop-dead gorgeous with graceful features and long, blond hair. He persisted and eventually her parents came around.
She followed him last fall to Whitworth College, where he studies business management. The two were serious. They’d talked about marrying one day and having three children.
“I wanted two boys,” Jordan says, “and a little girl for her.”
But at the hospital Christmas afternoon, all Jordan could think of was Jessica. He was among 10 or 12 family members and friends who’d gathered to wait for news, and early that afternoon, Jessica’s father delivered it: She was 27 weeks pregnant.
“My stomach,” Jordan says, “jumped pretty hard.”
“But there was clotting and bleeding in her brain,” he says. “The whole baby issue got trumped by “Is Jessica going to die today?”‘
Eclampsia – severe hypertension brought on by pregnancy – had caused Jessica’s first seizure; in the hospital, she had another. A CT scan showed a blood clot on her sinus cavity and bleeding in her brain. If she didn’t deliver her baby quickly, both she and the child could die.
By 3 p.m. Jessica, her mother and three flight nurses boarded a medevac plane for the two-hour flight to Portland, Ore. Oregon Health & Science University Hospital, with its neurologists and neonatal intensive-care unit, would be better able to handle mother and child than doctors in Kalispell could.
Emilee Grace arrives
Two hours later, Jordan and Jessica’s father, Jay, boarded a commercial flight for Portland. During a layover in Salt Lake City, they got an update by cell phone. When Jay hung up, he turned to Jordan, shook his hand, hugged him and said, “Congratulations. You’ve got a baby girl.”
Doctors at OHSU Hospital Family Birth Center delivered 2-pound, 14-ounce Emilee Grace Lister by Caesarean section at 6:58 p.m. Christmas Day.
Roni Corpron, Emilee’s grandmother, heard the child cry and saw her kick. Her eyes were dark blue and her skin was as pink as a rosebud.
“She looked perfect,” Roni says, “but miniature.”
Emilee wasn’t perfect.
Feeding tube substitute
The child’s esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, hadn’t developed properly. The condition, called esophageal atresia, occurs in about one in 4,000 live births. Often, parents are alerted to the condition during the pregnancy.
Without surgery, it can be fatal.
Dr. Mark L. Silen, surgeon in chief at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, operated for two hours, 10 minutes on Dec. 28, separating Emilee’s esophagus from her trachea and smoothing the way for food to pass into her stomach.
She’d need help – a feeding tube – for a month or longer.
As the infant recovered, Silen instructed his nurse to use a 3½ French, as the tiniest of feeding tubes is called. The hospital, however, didn’t stock such a small-diameter tube. The 5 French tube they used applied too much pressure to the narrow, delicate esophagus.
Silen had an idea.
A cat lover, he’d twice taken his ailing felines to Portland’s DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital. On one visit, he watched a veterinarian slide a sliver of a feeding tube down his cat’s neck and into its stomach.
They still had the tiny tubes in stock.
Silen had 45 minutes before his next patient. He hopped in his car and headed for DoveLewis.
“Can I pay you?” he remembers asking the technician who helped him.
“She said, “Forget it. It costs like a buck.”‘
Silen told the woman if she gave him two of the tubes, he’d make a $100 donation to the hospital in honor of his late cat.
“Instead of giving me two,” Silen says, “they gave me four.”
Jessica Corpron rocked gently in a chair Jan. 9 in Doernbecher’s Neonatal Care Center. Emilee, attached to leads monitoring her heart, respiration rate and blood oxygenation, squirmed in her mother’s arms.
Her fussing wouldn’t last long. Nurse Lynn Johnson attached a syringe to the threadlike, green feeding tube that snakes into Emilee’s right nostril and down her esophagus. She poured a thimbleful of Jessica Corpron’s breast milk into the syringe.
The child, 3 pounds, 1 ounce now, opened her eyes, then closed them – the picture of contentment.
Her mother, who plans to take spring term off from college, gazed back.
“She is my Christmas miracle,” Jessica said.