Pediatric Heart Condition Affects Son of Tonight Show Host, Jimmy Kimmel

Written by Atlee Hall

This past week, the medical staff at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles received a lot of attention for saving the life of Tonight Show host Jimmy Kimmel’s son, Billy. Billy was born with tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia, which simply means that Billy did not develop a pulmonary valve in his heart. Without a pulmonary valve, Billy’s heart could not move blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen before being returned to the heart for pumping through Billy’s body.

Pediatric heart defects are not as uncommon as you might think. A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology estimates that the incidence of heart defects may be as high as 75 per 1000 births. Considering that here in the United States we have almost 4 million births per year, means that as many as 300,000 babies are born with heart defects.

Amazingly, many heart defects like little Billy’s, can be diagnosed before the baby is born and some defects can even be treated while the baby is still in utero.  A level 2 sonogram or advanced ultrasound lets doctors focus on the developing heart or brain or other organs in much greater detail than the more typical level 1. And when doctors can see that a baby has a heart defect, they can be ready to provide emergency treatment at birth or perform corrective surgery in utero, which can correct some previously untreatable and fatal defects like d-transposition of the great arteries. In d-transposition, a baby’s two main arteries which carry blood from the heart are reversed, so instead of the normal, heart-lungs-heart-body blood cycle, the baby is stuck in a body-heart-body or lungs-heart-lungs cycle.

If a baby is suspected of a heart defect, a level 2 ultrasound at around 20 weeks can save a baby’s life even before the baby is born. From the mother’s perspective, a level 2 is no different from a level 1. But, from the baby’s perspective, it could be the difference between life and death at birth. Unfortunately, level 1 ultrasounds are still the norm, so many heart defects, like Billy Kimmel’s, don’t get detected until birth, which might be too late. Level 2 ultrasounds save the most precious lives, those that haven’t yet started.

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