Jimmy Kimmel, I Have Tetralogy of Fallot, Too

On last night’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel revealed that his newborn son, Billy, had surgery days after being born with a congenital heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot.

Here is his story:

His story is heartbreaking. A little baby born with a broken heart. JimmyKimmelHWOFJan2013

I’m fighting back tears writing this because I was that baby, too. Not Jimmy Kimmel’s baby. But a baby born with Tetralogy of Fallot.

I don’t really talk about my surgery much. It’s not something I hide, but congenital heart conditions don’t frequently come up in casual conversation, right? I’ve never particularly felt like a survivor or part of a cardiology community.

My parents made sure I never felt like a patient as a kid and that carried over into adulthood. But with Kimmel’s revelation, I’m happy to share a little bit of my story.

I was a lucky one – my Tetralogy of Fallot was diagnosed when I was six months old and fully repaired in a single surgery in 1982 performed by Dr. Bruce Reitz when he was at Johns Hopkins.

My parents often talk about a mysterious woman who kept them company in the waiting room, which made the hours feel like minutes, before disappearing.

The ongoing impact after the surgery has been, thankfully, mostly limited, with a few exceptions.

A cardiologist visit every year or so. Antibiotics before going to the dentist. And a ban on playing football or wrestling. [That last one was the hardest for me as a kid who just wanted to play, despite having zero athletic bones in my body.]

But now, nearly 35 years later, I have a family of my own, including three perfectly healthy kids.

The one caveat there is that because of my condition, each of our kids had a fetal echo-cardiogram, where a cardiologist examined them before they were born, just to make sure their hearts were developing properly. We had to prepare for the possibility that each of our kids could have the same condition as me – which brought me to tears every time. [I discussed this here.]

Thankfully, their hearts are all perfect. Their behavior may not always be, but we can deal with that. I think.

And outside of my doctor telling me to lose a few pounds (if only Nutella wasn’t so delicious…), I’m in good health, especially from a cardiovascular standpoint. I fully expect to live a long, long life annoying and loving my wife and kids.

Not every Tetralogy of Fallot patient is as fortunate. This is a serious condition that can’t always be fixed. It can be repaired but is always the first line of your medical history.

I’m so glad Kimmel used his monologue to advocate for a healthcare system that protects people with pre-existing conditions. This is a critical non-partisan issue that I can’t believe we have to fight for.

If Jimmy Kimmel is listening, my message to him and his family is to stay strong and not let this condition define Baby Billy. This will certainly be a part of who he is – something that literally impacted him on Day One and will continue to be a constant reminder every day.

He was broken. Now he’s fixed.

This was his beginning. Not his end.