I was born with the same heart defect as Jimmy Kimmel's son

And I can tell you what he and his family have to look forward to

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Understandably, Jimmy Kimmel is a big subject of conversation today. His emotional monologue about his newborn's heart defect was moving, to say the least. In it, he outlined his and his wife's fears and his baby's struggle. He talked about the further surgeries his son will have to face and how much each and every member of the hospital staff means to his family now.

If you haven't seen it yet, give it a watch. If it doesn't tug at your heart strings, there's a chance you may not have any.

I'm almost inclined to say that no one can truly understand Kimmel's experience, but I'd have to say my mother is in a unique position to appreciate just exactly what he is going through. That's because I was also born with a rare defect, tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia -- the exact heart defect plaguing Kimmel's son. My experience varied slightly from his newborn's, though. Back in the 80s, they didn't catch my defect from birth. I had five miserable, dangerous weeks of life where parts of my body may not have received enough oxygen and where my heart was beating so quickly and working so hard that I lost weight in my first weeks.

At five weeks old, they finally caught the problem. Down four ounces from my birth weight and at a less-than-robust 4lbs 7oz, it was at a checkup at a hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas that they determined I needed immediate medical assistance as I went into distress during a procedure. They air lifted me to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock and operated on me. My mother was frantic. The hospital was in another town and it's a scary thing to have your child taken from you for major surgery, leaving you to somehow keep your sanity as you drive through the state to meet up with your ailing infant.

In my early baby pictures, a blue tint is obvious due to the issue with my pulmonary artery limiting the oxygenated blood being spread throughout my body. My mom says I was what she called "new-blue-jeans blue." My first open-heart surgery was a harrowing experience, but a successful one. My pulmonary artery was too narrow, and the doctors cut it open to allow for better blood flow, exactly how doctors treated Billy Kimmel. There's a clear before and after in my baby pictures where I go from sickly blue to bright pink, my whole body finally being pumped full of oxygen-rich blood. My mom called that look "the most beautiful color of pink that she will always remember." I don't like to think about what those weeks of poor oxygen levels did to my brain, but I think it's important to count blessings rather than focus on "what ifs."

Plus I had a rocking chicken as a child, so who am I to complain?Credit: Family photo

I don't know what Kimmel's son's course of treatment will be beyond that follow-up surgery in a few months, but for me, it was two more surgeries before I was two and a (hopefully) final one when I was 14. I have otherwise lived a relatively normal life, despite the regular drives leaving at dawn to head to Arkansas Children's Hospital a couple times a year for checkups when I was a child. I was an active kid, practicing karate, taking dance, and playing softball, but there were times I resented the fact that I was told to sit down and rest when I didn't want to while my other friends were still able to play. I would get extremely pale and feel faint sometimes, especially in the triple-digit Arkansas summers, but as a kid, it's hard to take your health too seriously. Unfortunately, growing children-- even fearless ones-- can outgrow their implanted material, so by the time I was a preteen, my growth spurts were working against me and I had outgrown the replacement valve my doctors put in for me. I had a leak that needed to be fixed before I grew much more and put too much strain on my heart.

That's me and my dog, Dan. He was a good boy.Credit: Family photo

By the time I was 14, I underwent my fourth open-heart surgery. Most of my surgeries were planned like this one and meant to fix earlier measures or replace outgrown materials, but they were equally as stressful for my parents every time. I think a lot about what hell that must have been for them, and Kimmel's experience has brought it all back to forefront in the minds of my family members. My mom is remembering the pain and fear she experienced, and I am thinking about how hard those experiences must have been for her (something I've done often throughout my life).

As for being the kid having the surgery, luckily you don't remember surgeries in infancy. In fact, the last one is the only one I have any recollection of. The recovery from that surgery was hellacious, but I eventually healed and have otherwise lived a relatively average life, albeit somewhat bashful of the large scars on my chest, side, and back. Those scars eventually led to me unwittingly being a temporary face of the body-positive movement when a photo of me in a bikini went viral, and since then I've tried to turn the whole experience into something positive.

Not my finest moment-- the photo of me that spread across the web.Credit: Steven Reyes

Like Kimmel, my family and I have a long list of people who mean the world to us, and being able to trust them and be given their support and expertise made all the difference. I'll never stop telling people how wonderful Arkansas Children's Hospital is and encouraging them to donate to such a fantastic institution that works hard to treat every child who walks through their doors. They even offer financial aid to those who can't afford treatment. I agree wholeheartedly with Kimmel that "no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child's life," and as someone who was victim of a "pre-exisiting condition" from their first moment of life, I'll never take insurance and healthcare for granted. I'll never forget my cardiologist, a definite role model, Michele Moss, whom I admired and trusted and looked up to all throughout my childhood and still do to this very day. My surgeon, Dr. VanDevender performed all four of my surgeries and even visited me in recovery. (If you're a fan of Scrubs, you might be aware this is something surgeons don't often do.) He is a hero in my family. Obviously my mom is a hero too. She took me to every single appointment and held my hand through every single procedure. Things like that mean the world when such a huge chunk of your childhood takes place in hospital waiting rooms. I also always want to thank those friends of mine who never made me feel different, and even their parents who, at the time, I resented for making me sit out when I didn't want to, but now as an adult I realize they had only my best interests at heart. I have to pre-medicate before I go to the dentist and I had to ask my cardiologist's permission before I got my first tattoo, but still, in the end, I never really felt that different. I never felt like a weird kid with a condition.

Except there was one place I was always an oddity and likely always will be: The doctor's office. Especially before my last surgery when my heart murmur was still audible to the naked ear, I could go in for something as innocuous as foot pain and the doctors who had never treated me before would excitedly ask if they could give my heart a listen. Sometimes they would pull in other doctors or nurses to listen as well, because when you're my age, doctors haven't encountered a lot of patients who had what I had and lived. Hearing my murmur, they would say things like, "I've only read about this in books," or "this is something I've only heard in recordings!"

Today, though, I can gladly say I'm much less of a peculiarity. I no longer feel faint when I overdo it, and my murmur has been all but eradicated. Now when a new, inquisitive doctor asks to give my chest a listen, I acquiesce knowing they'll be disappointed. I like to watch for that split second where their face falls as they realize they can't hear any indication of my previous defects, and then watch them cover their displeasure with a big smile as they say to me, "You sound perfectly healthy!"

Kimmel's son, Billy

Billy Kimmel healthy and happy after his surgery

Kimmel and his son in the hospital

Kimmel and his son snuggling at home

The Kimmel family.

Me as a young kid

I did all the normal cute kid stuff with my mom

And I always had energy to play with new puppies

Softball was one of my favorite sports growing up.

I had great friendships and lots of things to celebrate

I still play sports today

I've also had quite a few adventures.

Sometimes overcoming life's difficulties can make you feel like a super hero

Hearts have always kind of felt like "my thing"

In the end, I learned to embrace my scars and my story