Last night, when millions of Americans tuned in to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, they were likely expecting to hear a lot of the comedian’s usual shtick. Maybe he’d make a few cracks at the latest political headlines, or throw in a Matt Damon joke or two. But instead, the late night host faced cameras with a heartfelt, tearful monologue that left much of the audience — and viewers at home — with tears in their own eyes, too.
In it, Kimmel opened up about his newborn son, William “Billy” Kimmel, and the congenital heart disease doctors discovered he had just moments after his birth; a condition that could have ended his life, had his parents not had proper health insurance.
“He had a murmur,” Kimmel explained, before adding that “he wasn’t the color he was supposed to be.”
Born on April 21, before Kimmel even got the chance to know him, a nurse had noticed right away that something was very wrong with Billy.
“The room started to fill up,” shared Kimmel, while choking back tears. “More doctors, nurses, and equipment started to come in. It’s a terrifying thing. I’m standing in the middle of a lot of very worried looking people, who are trying to figure out what the problem is.”
Listening to the monologue — and watching Kimmel’s anguished face, as he remembers the day his son was born — is painful and sobering.
“We put the baby in an ambulance and sent him to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles,” Kimmel shared, before explaining that on Monday morning, the first of three heart procedures was completed to begin fixing Billy’s heart.
Moments later, as a photo of Billy flashed across the screen, showing his tiny body hooked up to a ventilator and surgical dressing across his chest, the audience gasped. But in true Kimmel fashion, he followed it up with another photo of Billy from Monday, off the machines, and smiling.
“Poor kid,” Kimmel joked, “Not only did he get a bad heart, but he got my face.”
With a sigh of relief from the audience, suddenly all seemed right with the world again, because Billy had been saved.
But the truth is, for many people — including my own child — everything isn’t always fine. And when Kimmel began to talk about the healthcare issues that have left both America and our government divided, I knew that he understood.
“I want to say one other thing,” the late night host continued. “President Trump last month, proposed a $6 billion cut to the National Institute of Health, and thank God our congressman made a deal last night, to not go along with that … Because more than 40 percent of people who would have been affected by those cuts at the National Institute of Health, would have been children.”
With tears streaming down my face, I knew that he was talking about my 5-year-old son.
“We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world,” continued a visibly shaken Kimmel. “But until just a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance.”
His words brought me back to a place I had been in myself, just a few short years ago.
I had known something was wrong with my son by the time he was several months old. I did the right thing, and took him to the pediatrician, who agreed that something wasn’t right, and referred me to a specialist.
But being on Medicaid, I couldn’t get him in to see any of the doctors that I needed to treat him, and the wait lists at the university hospitals were months, and in some case, years long. When we finally got an appointment, we were asked what health insurance we had, and were promptly told that the tests and treatments we needed simply weren’t covered by Medicaid.
For years, my son was passed from doctor to doctor, never getting the help that we needed, and I was left watching my son slowly slip through the cracks. I’ll never forget the day I sat crying and pleading in one specialist’s office, begging him to “please help save my son” — before being told that the billing department wouldn’t let him.
I got re-married last September, and luckily, now have health insurance that’s finally allowed me to get my son in front of the doctors he’s so desperately needed. It was only then that I finally learned he has epilepsy, and that many of his issues stem from nightly seizures in his sleep — seizures that have gone unchecked for so long, he now has brain damage.
Finally knowing the truth is a relief; but realizing he could have been helped so much sooner stings the heart. My son should be enjoying kindergarten right now, but instead he has been robbed of the childhood he deserved.
I also have a daughter with a progressive and potentially fatal genetic condition. If the bill passes to allow insurance companies to disqualify people with pre-existing conditions, she will likely become uninsured; and to be honest, I can’t bring myself to think about what will happen to her without healthcare.
But as Kimmel explains, it’s a potential reality that no parent should ever have to think about.
“If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make,” Kimmel said, acknowledging the fact that if Billy had been born to two parents without quality health insurance, he might not be here today.
And sadly, that’s a heartbreaking reality far too many families face across America. Families just like mine.
In closing, the late night host reminded us that it isn’t about politics or sides or who’s right and who’s wrong.
“There are no teams in this, this isn’t football,” Kimmel continued. “We are the team of the United States … Don’t let partisan squabbles divide us on something that every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other.”
And then, as he began to break down, Kimmel added one more heartbreaking plea: “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen.”
Looking at my son and the life that has already slipped away from him, as well as the daughter I still risk losing, it breaks my heart to know that my government — or any government — can argue that.