If you’ve been watching TV or been online at all today, you’ve seen the story about TV host Jimmy Kimmel’s newborn son having open heart surgery for a condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. Jimmy made an incredibly moving speech about it at the start of his show last night. He and his wife were lucky in that they had access to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and one of the best pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons in the country to take care of their child.

In SURGEON’S STORY, my new book about pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Kristine Guleserian, the first patient we meet is eleven-month old Claudia, who also suffers from Tetralogy. Briefly, the cardiac problems common to this condition are;

  • Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) A hole between the two ventricles of the heart. The hole is there in the womb but is meant to close shortly after birth.
  • Overriding Aorta – The vessel which carries oxygenated blood to the body is positioned improperly on the heart.
  • Right Ventricular Outflow Tract Obstruction – Blood flow from the heart to the lungs is severely restricted, and,
  • Right Ventricular Hypertrophy, meaning the right ventricle is dangerously enlarged because it is having to do too much work to pump blood.

The Kimmel’s son also had Pulmonary atresia, meaning the valve carrying blood from the right ventricle to the lungs for oxygen has not formed correctly and is restricting flow.

Jimmy and Molly went through every type of agony once they got their son’s diagnosis. And while the first surgery he had was successful, he’ll have to have at least two more.

When Dr. Guleserian puts the child on the heart-lung machine and goes to work on the heart, the first thing to do is see if the damage she can visualize is approximately what she saw on the patient’s echocardiogram. Imaging studies can only show so much, and often times things are tougher than the pictures will show. Young Kimmel’s main problem was likely the malformed pulmonary artery. For blood to flow properly to the lungs for oxygen, this valve has to be working well. Sometimes the valve doesn’t have the proper number of flaps and adjustments must be made for that.  The hole between the ventricles, necessary in utero to make sure the heart and lungs are not overworked, must be closed, often with tissue taken from the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart.

Now, keep this last part in mind. Dr. Guleserian, and the surgeon who worked on young Mr. Kimmel, are working on hearts approximately the size of a walnut. The pulmonary valve, when transected, may be about the diameter of a green pea. This is why pediatric cardiothoracic surgery is generally considered the toughest of all surgical disciplines.

Jimmy and Molly were very luck to access to a world-class surgeon for their son’s surgery.

Click here to find out more about what it’s like inside the OR during pediatric heart surgery, I direct you to the book Dr. Guleserian and I wrote, SURGEON’S STORY. Just as Jimmy Kimmel was last night, you’ll be speechless at the incredible talent these surgeons have.