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As their son was about to reach his 18-month milestone, Jimmy Kimmel and wife Molly McNearney helped raise $5.5 million for the hospital that saved Billy’s life.
In April 2017, hours after the delivery, the couple learned that Billy was struggling to breathe. Diagnosed with a heart disease (tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia), the infant had his first open-heart surgery when he was just three days old. The procedure was performed by the founder and head of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles’ Division of Cardiothoriac Surgery, Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes, the same surgeon who once performed a heart-lung transplant on the youngest patient ever.
Kimmel, host of the past two Oscar telecasts, relived the ordeal during a tearful, 13-minute Jimmy Kimmel Live! monologue. “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,” he said.
Referencing the Affordable Care Act passed under President Barack Obama, Kimmel continued, “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. … If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”
On Saturday night, Kimmel, legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully and Hasbro each received Courage to Care awards at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles [CHLA] gala. Themed “From Paris With Love,” the festivities took place on the roof of L.A. Live, under a tent abutting a stories-tall, neon-lit Eiffel Tower. The non-profit hospital welcomes young patients for more than 500,000 annual visits, regardless of whether they have insurance.
“I think people care about other people, no matter whether you’re on this side or you’re in a red state or a blue state,” Kimmel told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think when people know someone’s child’s health is in danger, they want to support them. And we just got nothing but kindness and support from everyone we met.”
McNearney, the co-head writer/producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, confirmed to reporters that Billy is happy, healthy and “not a wimp. He got a flu shot and he just kind of giggled at the nurse. I guess when you’ve been through what he’s been through, a flu shot is nothing.”
Awkward actress Nikki DeLoach agrees. Around the time Kimmel made Billy’s health battle public, she learned that the son she was carrying, Bennett, had heart defects. “These kids, they don’t think they’re any different, and they’re not,” she said. They’re the strongest kids you will ever meet in your entire life.” Bennett was also treated at CHLA; one week ago, he had his second major surgery, and he went home to recover shortly thereafter.
Guests praised Kimmel’s vulnerability and onscreen advocacy. “I think it is wonderful that he was very open about it, to tell the story, so people can see it happens to everybody, and can also happen to someone like Jimmy,” said Heidi Klum.
“Jimmy gave the Children’s Hospital such a lift, and it made it such that it was a recognized entity in the city, whereas it used to be sort of considered a safety-net hospital,” added Dr. Starnes. “More importantly, he gave children with healthcare needs a voice.”
During his speech — given right about when the Dodgers clinched their latest World Series ticket — Scully remarked, “Two words that have always shaken my heart are ‘children’s hospital.’” The voice of the Dodgers for 67 years but now retired, Scully has enjoyed more time with his 19 combined grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as opportunities to stop by CHLA and read to patients. On Nov. 6, he implored the audience to vote yes on Proposition 4, a measure that would increase funding for California hospitals that treat children.
The fundraiser previously honored Drew Barrymore, The Billy and Audrey L. Wilder Foundation and the Los Angeles Kings. Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson played emcee. His predecessor, tablemate and friend, Josh Gad, “told me to not suck, which was really valuable advice,” Ferguson laughed on the red carpet. A CHLA neighbor, he volunteers for the 117-year-old organization every holiday season. “They’re like family, the family that lives down the street.”
Grammy winners Foo Fighters and Pharrell Williams (who boogied onstage with 9-year-old CHLA patient Eliana Georges) performed for the 1,400 guests at the benefit, which included NBC Universal’s Jeff Shell; Live Nation’s Heather Parry; John Stamos and wife Caitlin McHugh-Stamos; Richard Marx and Daisy Fuentes; Heidi Klum; Lake Bell; Malin Åkerman; Teri Hatcher; Jamie-Lynn Sigler; Dan Levy; Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus; and Disney’s Bob Iger, who presented Kimmel’s honor.
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