Jimmy Kimmel choked back tears on the May 1 episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” when he recounted what happened to his son, Billy, who was born with a near-fatal heart disease less than two weeks earlier. The late night host sounded off on the state of American health care, praised the Affordable Care Act and thanked the doctors who saved his son’s life – including Bellmore JFK alumnus Evan Zahn.
After graduating from Kennedy in 1978, Zahn received a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Albany and earned his medical degree from New York Medical College in Valhalla. In 1989, he began working at the Miami Children’s Hospital in South Florida (now Nicklaus Children’s Hospital) and stayed there for most of his career. For the past five years he has served as director of the Guerin Family Congenital Heart Program at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, where Billy was treated.
Zahn was picking up his mother at the airport when he received a call from the hospital about the emergency. After performing an echocardiogram, or sonogram of the heart, on Billy, he discovered that the infant had been born with Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia.
“That’s the most common heart disease we see in children,” said Zahn. “It comes in a wide sort of variety, from very bad to treatable.”
In Billy’s case, there was a hole in his heart’s lining between the right and left ventricles. The doctors at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute performed open-heart surgery and corrected the problem.
Rather than relying on open-heart surgery, Zahn said that his doctors at the Guerin Family Congenital Heart Program are researching the use of a catheter-based procedure to treat heart conditions. The procedure is minimally invasive and does not leave a scar, he said and added, “The amount of things we can do today is really just staggering.”
Zahn agreed with criticism Kimmel lobbed against the American Health Care Act, which congressional Republicans just passed in the House of Representatives. According to Reuters, if passed, the bill “would allow states to opt out of Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions [such as Billy’s] – provisions that force insurers to charge sick people and healthy people the same rates.”
“I think Jimmy Kimmel did his credit,” Zahn said, commending Kimmel for using his story to spread a message.
“It’s hard to swallow as a patriotic American, which I am, that we are discussing eliminating or making insurance difficult to get for patients with pre-existing conditions,” he continued. “That is literally every patient I have helped in the span of my career… Do we really want to go back to survival of the fittest?”
Zahn remembers his community as having a mosaic of differing opinions when it comes to politics, “but they are good, caring, family-oriented people.” He said that he believes, “People in [similar] communities across the country will ban together and realize we have to take care of each our own, particularly the sick.”
Jimmy Kimmel returned to “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on May 9 to update the audience on Billy’s condition. He said that his son was “eating, getting bigger and sleeping well.”