Jimmy Kimmel opened up his show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Monday with a heart-wrenching monologue where he was unable to contain his emotions as he explained why he wasn’t on air last week. He revealed the journey of finding out his newborn baby boy, Billy, was born with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) called Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) with Pulmonary atresia (PA) and the open heart surgery that saved his son’s life.
Like 50% of all CHD’s, Kimmel’s son’s heart defect was not caught in utero. Instead, it was detected just hours after his birth when an astute nurse heard a heart murmur and noticed the purple tint of the baby’s skin. Recognizing these symptoms began the series of events which led to the diagnosis of baby Kimmel’s CHD.
The Kimmel’s have now become members of the “heart community” and his son is one of the 1 in 100 babies born with a CHD. They may not know much about the world of CHD’s but they are in the midst of a crash course. I know because almost 4 years ago I had to take that course after learning my unborn son would be born with a rare and life-threatening CHD called HLHS.
As surreal as this all may seem to the Kimmel’s their son’s heart defect is not uncommon. In fact, CHD’s are the number one birth defect in the world. Not all babies born with a CHD will need open heart surgery or other invasive procedures yet 25% of them will. More babies are affected by and die from CHD’s than all childhood cancers combined.
“Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) is a common congenital heart malformation that involves a ventricular septal defect (hole in the heart), abnormal thickening of the muscle on right side of the heart and abnormalities in the major blood vessels carrying blood away from the heart. These abnormalities typically cause low oxygen levels in the blood resulting in cyanosis (bluish discoloration to the skin). Children typically undergo corrective surgery as an infant to avoid the consequences of the low oxygen levels and altered blood flow patterns.”
Pulmonary atresia (PA) is not as common with 1 in every 10,000 newborns afflicted. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, PA
occurs when the pulmonary valve — normally located between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery — doesn’t form properly. This means that blood can’t flow from the heart to the lungs to get oxygen to the body. In some cases, babies with pulmonary atresia may also have a small, or missing, right ventricle that can’t properly pump blood to the lungs.
Jimmy Kimmel’s son Billy was born on April 21st and had his open heart surgery just 3 days later at the Children’s Hospital of L.A. Thanks to the amazing medical team the surgery was a success and the Kimmels were able to bring their son home six days post op.
Jimmy Kimmel took the time to thank all those involved from the medical team who took care of his son, to friends and family as well as to the outpouring of support and prayers his family received.
“We had Atheists praying for us” Kimmel said as he injected some humor into his poignant opening.
Kimmel turned the discussion to politics as he made an emotional plea about health care and pre-existing conditions.
“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? No parent should ever have to decide whether they can afford to save their child’s life.”
All of us in the heart community are grateful for Jimmy Kimmel opening up about his families journey with CHD. His courage to share such intimate details of his life and his son’s fight has begun a critically needed conversation since CHD’s are practically ignored and grossly underfunded
Mr. Kimmel, the heart community is like a family of which you are now a part of. While you shared the story of how your family entered into the world of CHD we wept with you as our own experiences flooded in. We rally around our own so from this day forward your family has our support and we will join the atheists in praying for your brave heart warrior, Billy.
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