Monday night Jimmy Kimmel spent his opening monologue, a Late Show segment usually devoted to cracking jokes about current events, sharing a vulnerable story with his audience. Jimmy Kimmel Live! was off air last week, as it turns out because Kimmel was in the neonatal ICU and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles following the birth of his son Billy.
In a tender monologue that will defy even the hardest efforts to stay dry-eyed, Kimmel explains the details of his newborn son’s heart condition, and what their family went through in order to bring Billy through an open heart surgery and to a happy ending.
He generously devoted valuable screen time to thanking each of the nurses, doctors and staff members who had helped them by name, and ended on an appeal for everyone to “please say a prayer for or send positive thoughts to the families with children who are still in the hospital now, because they need it.”
Tetralogy of Fallot
By strange coincidence, the Live! show already had a heart surgeon lined up as last night’s guest. TV’s Dr. Oz, a real life cardiothoracic surgeon and professor at Columbia University, explained newborn Billy’s condition in more detail.
The disease is called Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. It’s named for French physician Étienne-Louis Arthur Fallot, who pioneered heart surgery in the late 19th century. The “tetralogy” refers to four defects, including a hole between the heart’s ventricles, the narrowing of one and enlarging of the other, and an overriding aorta that causes deoxygenated blood to pollute the oxygenated blood that is trying to carry oxygen to tissue around the body.
Because of the resulting poor oxygen flow, the baby turns bluish or purple, a condition called cyanosis, as happened with Kimmel’s son. Tetralogy of Fallot occurs in about 5 of every 10,000 babies, according to the National Institute of Health, and is repairable through open-heart surgery. As of the last few decades, the NIH explains, most patients are now able to survive through adulthood with the help of specialists.
Complicating matters further, newborn Billy had a condition called pulmonary atresia. In layperson’s terms, the valve between the heart and lungs didn’t form. For this, Kimmel gave a shout out to the “genius” of Dr. Vaughn Starnes of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
“He went in there with a scalpel and did some kind of magic that I couldn’t even begin to explain. He opened the valve and the operation was a success.”
The Live! show also lined up an interview with snowboarder Shaun White, who was born with the same condition as Kimmel’s son Billy. Despite having Tetralogy of Fallot, White grew up to be an Olympic athlete.
A Personal Appeal
In his monologue, Kimmel noted how this scary personal situation reflects a matter of national public interest.
“If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?”
Kimmel reminded his audience that President Trump tried to cut $6 billion from the National Institute of Health. The proposed budget cuts would have deprived many people the kind of care that the Kimmel family received. The budget, however, was not approved. Instead, as Kimmel gratefully acknowledged, Congress increased NIH funding by $2 billion.
“Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other,” Kimmel said.
“I saw a lot of families there, and no parent should have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It-it just shouldn’t happen,” he implored through tears. “Not here.”
To donate to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, please visit CHLA.org/donate