As a mom to a tough-as-nails kid with a life-threatening bleeding disorder, I was reduced to tears last year when Jimmy Kimmel opened up about his own son’s terrifying health condition. Billy, who was born with congenital heart disease, had both a pulmonary valve that was totally blocked and a hole in both the right and left side of his heart. And during a 13-minute monologue on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in May of 2017, the new dad didn’t hold back about the agony of witnessing your child clinging to life right before your eyes.
I’m willing to bet there wasn’t a viewer that night — or in the days that followed, as the clip went viral — whose own heart didn’t ache for Kimmel and his family, whether they could relate to it from firsthand experience or not.
I still remember vomiting on a hospital floor after getting the news that my son was diagnosed with hemophilia. The nurse who broke the news wasn’t actually supposed to and had no way to prep me for the scary news. In the days and weeks after, my husband and I read every book and Internet article we could get our hands on to better understand our son’s disorder, which at the time was a total mystery to us. In those moments, when we should have been blissful over the arrival of our first child, we were instead filled with fear, anger, and sadness.
But our son wasn’t in danger of dying, as Kimmel’s sadly was. And in the April ’18 issue of O Magazine, the late night host reveals just how much that terrifying prospect affected him — especially when it came to those first moments of bonding.
“There were secrets we kept from each other that we revealed only after the second surgery,” Kimmel shared in the interview, when describing how he and his wife Molly McNearny each dealt with the health crisis. “The biggest one was that I think subconsciously, we didn’t want to get too close to the baby because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“I don’t know if that’s right or wrong or common or uncommon,” he continued. “But when I told her I was feeling that way, she said, ‘Oh I’m so happy you said that because I was feeling that way too, and I didn’t want to express it.'”
As a mother who once stood in a NICU at 3 AM with dizzying questions and fear racing through my mind and body, I can totally connect with that feeling. But with time, I learned — as did Kimmel — that it was okay to get close.
In the year since Billy’s recovery, the comedian has not only bonded with his son, but also become an outspoken advocate for kids in desperate need of medical care. While holding his adorable son on TV in December 2017, Kimmel made a public plea to save the Children’s Health Insurance Program (otherwise known as CHIP), while joking, “ … look, he’s fine. Daddy cried on T.V., but Billy doesn’t.”
There’s no doubt that having a child with serious health condition will shift the central axis of your world in ways that will forever mark you. My ability to feel empathy and sympathy for others is ten-fold what it used to be. And for all the fears of not being close to my child, I am happy to report that today, my son and I are as thick as thieves.
I have no doubt that Jimmy and his son Billy are, too.