Since his late-night talk show began in 2003, comedian Jimmy Kimmel has been a familiar face in American households. Usually, the talk show host is known for his elaborate pranks, adorable interviews with children, and a long-running faux feud with actor Matt Damon.
In recent years, however, Kimmel and his wife, screenwriter Molly McNearney, have become vocal about a much more serious topic: pediatric healthcare. The couples involvement in this issue began in 2017, when McNearney gave birth to their son, Billy. Although he initially appeared healthy, nurses at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center soon began to observe unusual symptoms in the newborn. His skin had a purple hue, indicating a lack of oxygen in his blood.
Doctors identified Billy’s condition as Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) with pulmonary atresia, a congenital heart defect with a high mortality rate. Just three days after he was born, Billy was taken to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for open heart surgery. The operation, performed by cardiac surgeon Dr. Vaughn Starnes, was a success.
“It was the longest three hours of my life,” Kimmel said during a heartfelt speech on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the week after his son’s surgery. After thanking a long list of nurses and doctors who cared for his son, a tearful Kimmel transitioned into a broader discussion of healthcare for people born with pre-existing conditions.
Here’s an excerpt from Kimmel’s speech:
“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. 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.”
In the months after this speech, Kimmel frequently criticized the proposed Graham-Cassidy Bill for failing to provide healthcare coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Since that bill failed in 2017, Kimmel has remained a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, which prevents health insurance companies from refusing to cover or overcharging clients with pre-existing conditions. In the 2020 election, the formerly apolitical Kimmel urged his followers to use their vote to protect healthcare rights.
Although Kimmel was already active in charitable giving prior to Billy’s birth, his experience with Billy seems to have propelled Kimmel towards a deeper involvement in philanthropy. Shortly after his son’s birth, Kimmel was among a group of celebrities who helped to raise $1.3 million for Alex’s Lemonade, a foundation for childhood cancer. Kimmel also personally contributed $1 million to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In 2020, Kimmel announced that he and McNearney would be matching donations up to $25,000 to St. Joseph Center, a Los Angeles-based charity that assists the working poor and homeless families in the area.
Kimmel and his family celebrated Billy’s 5th birthday in April of this year. Billy, who has undergone multiple surgeries, is now a healthy toddler. In an Instagram post celebrating the occasion, Kimmel thanked Billy’s doctors and asked his followers to donate to families in need of medical care.