Seven months ago, Jimmy Kimmel opened his show with an emotional monologue that detailed how his newborn son, Billy, was born with a serious heart condition called tetralogy of Fallot. Talented teams of doctors and healthcare workers at Cedars-Sinai, and thereafter at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles diagnosed and successfully treated the infant with procedures that were developed and perfected by research with animal models.

It’s a remarkable story; and we were so moved that we dedicated a previous blog to the advancements in medicine that have given Billy, along with thousands of other children, a second chance at life.

According to a press release from ABC, on Monday, the baby underwent a second scheduled procedure—which was successful. He should soon be getting on with the business of life.

The outcome, as Kimmel said back in May to his television audience, is miraculous. At the same time, most patients with heart conditions like Billy’s will have to limit physical activity, and into adulthood they must maintain regular follow-ups with cardiologists who specialize in congenital heart defects.

Tetralogy of Fallot is present at birth. It’s usually diagnosed soon thereafter, because infants born with the condition often have bluish-colored skin—signaling a lack of oxygenated blood, caused in this case by an obstruction that blocks the pulmonary valve. Billy’s was totally blocked. As Kimmel explained, he was born with pulmonary atresia, which is still more serious and required an immediate surgical intervention.

The first surgery was to implant a tube called the Blalock-Taussig shunt, so-named for the pair of physicians who revolutionized cardiac surgery with the device, which they developed and tested with dogs. Before 1944—prior to the advent of this instrument and the procedure used to administer it—tetralogy of Fallot was considered untreatable. Half of all infants born with the condition died within three years, and less than five percent lived beyond 25 years.

Along with the Blalock-Taussig procedure, animal research was behind the tools used to diagnose congenital heart disease. And the shunt can only be implanted by open-heart surgery, which was made possible by the cardiopulmonary bypass—a device that was also developed with dogs in research. You can read more in FBR’s previous blog about the research with calves and canines that led to these advancements in cardiology.

With some lifestyle modifications, most patients successfully treated for tetralogy of Fallot will thrive. Several months ago, Kimmel interviewed two-time Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White (pictured below), who discussed his experience managing the condition with regular cardiac examinations (in between training for the 2018 games). White boasts some of the highest accolades in skateboarding and snowboarding, achievements that undoubtedly required incredible strength and stamina. He, along with countless other patients who have recovered, serves as living proof of the benefits of animal research.

Shaun White

Shaun White

The tremendous progress that’s been made in the treatment of congenital heart conditions represents a series of medical milestones; research victories that may never have existed without animal research.

More importantly, for thousands of families like the Kimmels, advancements in pediatric cardiology will mean they can celebrate their baby’s first Christmas, Hanukkah, holiday season, or birthday—and look forward to many more.

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