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Jimmy Kimmel Opens Up About His Newborn Son's Heart Surgery And Praises Obamacare

"I have a story to tell about something that happened to our family last week." That's how Jimmy Kimmel began an unusually heartfelt monologue on his late-night show Monday.

"You know I try not to get emotional, but it was a scary story," he said, already tearing up. "And before I go into it, I want you to know it has a happy ending. OK? So when I'm telling this, don't get too upset. Leave that to me."

In an emotional, 13-minute recounting of events on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel said that last week, his wife gave birth to a son, William "Billy" Kimmel, the couple's second child. It was an easy delivery, but a few hours after the birth, a nurse noticed a murmur in the baby's heart. Kimmel describes how they started doing some tests to see whether it might just be fluid in the lungs, "potentially a minor thing."

But the baby's lungs were fine, Kimmel said, which meant his heart wasn't. "So now more doctors and nurses and equipment come in. It's — it's a terrifying thing. You know, my wife is back in the recovery room, she has no idea what's going on. And I'm standing in the middle of a lot of very worried-looking people — kind of like right now — who are trying to figure out what the problem is."

Doctors did an echocardiogram and found that Billy was born with a heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. "It's hard to explain," said Kimmel, "but basically the pulmonary valve was completely blocked, and he has a hole in the wall between the left and right sides of his heart."

Last Monday, Kimmel said, a surgeon "opened [Billy's] chest and fixed one of the two defects in his heart. 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. It was the longest three hours of my life." The baby will need to have another heart surgery in three to six months, and another procedure when he's a teenager to replace the valve he has now.

He thanked a long list of people, including Sylvia, the mother of his bandleader and childhood friend Cleto Escobedo III, who he said was like a second mother to him. "Never has any human being ever texted more praying hands emojis to another human being than Cleto's mom did to me. I had to upgrade my phone just to handle them all," he joked.

But in late night, as elsewhere, the personal is political. Kimmel continued the story of his son's health crisis by discussing the broader context of health care in America.

"President Trump last month proposed a $6 billion cut in funding to the National Institute[s] of Health," he said. "And thank God our congressmen made a deal last night not to go along with that. They actually increased funding by $2 billion, and I applaud them for doing that."

He went on to praise the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, for bringing access to health care to people who couldn't afford it.

"We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all," he said. "You know, before 2014 if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you'd never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition and if your parents didn't have medical insurance you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition. If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make."

He finished with a plea for Americans to get past party lines and think of the greater good.

"Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that the people who are supposed to represent us, people who are meeting about this right now in Washington, understand that very clearly," Kimmel said.

"Let's stop with the nonsense. This isn't football. There are no teams. We are the team. It's the United States. Don't let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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