Jimmy Kimmel's wife, Molly McNearney, is revealing the moments that led up to her husband publicly addressing their son Billy's heartbreaking health issue during a now viral monologue in May.
The late-night show's passionate support of affordable healthcare received an incredible response, including personal notes from former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, McNearney describes the harrowing day of Billy's birth, when just three hours after he arrived, she was informed that her son had a serious health problem.
"A doctor I'd never seen before came in the room -- and I knew," the Jimmy Kimmel Live! co-head writer recalls. "He sat down on the bed and put his hand on my knee, and I just burst into tears. 'Where is he?' I said. 'Where is the baby?'"
"The doctor told me there's an issue, it's either his heart or his lung," she continues. "From that moment on, it became a whirlwind of medical jargon and information I never knew I would have to understand. I was brought up to the neonatal intensive care unit, and I saw him there in his incubator with all these tubes in him. Jimmy was already there."
Billy ended up having to undergo open-heart surgery when he was just three days old. McNearney says that after the life-changing experience, it was Kimmel who wanted to talk about Billy on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
"I didn't think much of it," she admits. "I figured he'd tell the story and then he'd probably cry because, well, he once cried on the show over a lion dying."
"That Monday, Billy was finally home, and Jimmy was back at work," she continues. "Even though I was on maternity leave, I was still getting all of my work emails, and I didn't get one with the monologue for that night. I emailed Jimmy, and he said, 'I just want you to watch.' So, there I am, in my living room breastfeeding Billy with my mom beside me, and we're watching. I sobbed through the entire thing. I couldn't believe the strength that it took to tell that story a week after it happened. He didn't have to do that. Our family has excellent health care; he had nothing to gain from that. He did it for the other people whom we met in that hospital. He came home that night, and I just hugged him and I wouldn't let go."
Of course, not all of the response has been positive, and McNearney admits she gets shaken by nasty notes.
"People were sending letters to our home, attacking both of us on Twitter, saying things like we deserve this and we're terrible people," she shares. "That's been the ugliest part of all of this, and it's been harder for me to deal with than the weekly cardiologist appointments and making sure my baby is breathing properly."
Still, McNearney has no regrets.
"I don't necessarily like that everyone knows what's going on with the health of my child," she acknowledges. "And it's scary to make yourself vulnerable the way we have, but the encouragement that we're helping other people far outweighs my fears about our lack of privacy."
"I'm looking forward to the day that I get to tell him about all of this," she adds about Billy. "I want to be the one to tell Billy what his dad did for him."
ET spoke with McNearney and Kimmel in September at the 2017 Emmys, where the late-night host opened up about deciding to tell their family's story.
"It's one of those things that happens and it's terrible and then you realize, 'Oh, I have to say something about that,'" he explained. "There's parents who have to deal with a lot worse than we're dealing with, so we're keeping it in perspective."
"Thank God for [Kimmel], he was amazing," McNearney added of her husband. "Each day we were the other one’s rock. He kept things actually funny and uplifting and we cried together a lot, but thank God we had each other through all that."