Kim­mel baby’s heart de­fect is common, fix­able

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - MARILYNN MARCHIONE

The hole-in-the-heart prob­lem that plagues co­me­dian Jimmy Kim­mel’s new­born son is one of the most common heart-re­lated birth de­fects, and it usu­ally can be fixed with surgery.

Some peo­ple even live with it for sev­eral years be­fore it’s de­tected, al­though the Kim­mel baby’s is the most se­vere form and was no­ticed just a few hours after his birth in Los An­ge­les on April 21.

On his show Monday night, the co­me­dian tear­fully de­scribed the emer­gency op­er­a­tion needed after his son, Wil­liam John, was found to have tetral­ogy of Fal­lot (tehTRALL-oh-jee of fall-OH.) A quick take on the con­di­tion.

Things are not where they should be

Tetral­ogy means four, a clus­ter of that many de­fects. The main one is a hole or open­ing in the wall sep­a­rat­ing the two sides of the heart. In a nor­mal heart, the right side pumps oxy­gen-de­pleted, or blue blood from other parts of the body to the lungs to get more oxy­gen. The left side then pumps this oxy­gen-rich, red blood to the rest of the body.

These types of blood should stay sep­a­rated, but a hole in the heart wall lets them mix, so some blood with­out enough oxy­gen winds up get­ting pumped out into the body.

This can be com­pli­cated by a sec­ond prob­lem the Kim­mel baby has — pul­monary atre­sia, a se­verely blocked heart valve, which pre­vents enough blood from reach­ing the lungs.

What causes the de­fect?

Usu­ally the cause isn’t known, al­though it is more common in chil­dren with cer­tain con­di­tions such as Down syn­drome.

In some cases, genes may play a role. Or it may just be a fluke, the re­sult of ab­nor­mal de­vel­op­ment in the womb.

What surgery does

Kim­mel said the open-heart op­er­a­tion was to open the blocked valve so there’s bet­ter blood flow. It’s not known what else was done to ad­dress the other prob­lems. Billy came home six days after that and is “do­ing great,” his fa­ther said. The baby will need a sec­ond surgery within six months to fix the hole. Doc­tors of­ten place a patch to close the open­ing, al­though there are a cou­ple other pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

“They are get­ting him bigger un­til he can do a more com­pre­hen­sive re­pair,” ex­plained Dr. Peace Madueme, a pe­di­atric car­di­ol­o­gist at Cincin­nati Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal Med­i­cal Cen­ter. He has no knowl­edge of the Kim­mel case and just dis­cussed what’s usu­ally done.

Kim­mel said his son would need a third op­er­a­tion in his teens.

“That usu­ally is a pul­monary valve re­place­ment,” which some­times can be done through blood ves­sels rather than in an open­heart op­er­a­tion, Madueme said.

What’s ahead

“Life­style-wise, kids with tetral­ogy do re­ally well, nor­mal daily activities,” Madueme said, cit­ing Shaun White, the Olympic gold medal snow­boarder with the same de­fect. White ap­peared on Kim­mel’s show Monday night to talk about his case.

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