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‘No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life’

Randy Holmes/ABC via AP

The personal became the political last night on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” In his dramatic 13-minute opening monologue, the late-night host told his audience that his newborn son, Billy, underwent open-heart surgery last week.

Fighting back tears, Kimmel explained that after his wife, Molly McNearney, had an easy delivery — “six pushes, he was out” — they learned that Billy was born with a blocked valve and a hole in the wall between the left and right sides of his heart. The surgery — “the longest three hours of my life” — turned out well, and Billy is out of danger. His voice cracking, Kimmel was filled with gratitude for the medical staff, his family, and his friends.

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“Even that son of a bitch Matt Damon sent flowers,” he said.

It was a moving late-night moment, the kind we sometimes saw from David Letterman, after the death of Robin Williams, after his quintuple bypass surgery in 2000, and, of course, after 9/11. Late-night hosts — still mostly male, by the way — spend most of their time onscreen making jokes, and helping their guests make jokes. That’s their mission: to send viewers to sleep with a bit of uplift. That goal makes their infrequent lapses into seriousness feel even more powerful. They rarely put their hearts on the line.

But Kimmel didn’t leave it at a big, emotional “PHEW.” Usually not political, he went on to criticize President Trump’s proposed $6 billion budget cut to the National Institutes of Health and praise Congress for not going along with it. “They actually increased funding by $2 billion, and I applaud them for doing that,” Kimmel said. He noted that 40 percent of the people who would have been affected by that NIH cut would have been children.

He had some sincere and positive things to say about Obamacare: “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. Before 2014, if you were born with a heart disease like my son was, there was a chance you’d never be able to get health insurance because you had a preexisting condition. You were born with a preexisting condition, and if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not even live long enough to get denied because of a preexisting condition.”

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He finished by urging both sides of the aisle to keep their eye on what matters. “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something now, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, or something else, we all agree on that, right? Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that the people who are supposed to represent us — people are meeting about this right now in Washington — understand that very clearly.”

He summed up his feelings with this thought: “Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football, there are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.”

In the last moments of his monologue, Kimmel choked up again as he returned to his experience with his son in the hospital. “I saw a lot of families there, and no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” he said. “It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.

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“I promise I’m not going to cry for the rest of the show,” he finished.

Kimmel will be on paternity leave for the rest of the week, with Will Arnett, Anthony Anderson, Kristen Bell, and David Spade sitting in for him.

The monologue was apparently Barack Obama approved. The former president tweeted this on Tuesday morning.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.