An East Tennessee teen who was born with a heart defect is sharing his message of hope.
Monday night, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel told viewers across the county his story about his son who was recently born with a heart defect of his own.
Kimmel got emotional as he explained the struggles his family went through as they found out his newborn son, Billy, was born with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) with pulmonary atresia.
Kimmel's son has already been through one surgery and will likely go through another in the coming months.
Morristown East freshman Nathan Rippetoe and his mother can identify with the struggle Kimmel and his family will go through in the next few months and years.
Nathan was born with pulmonary atresia with a ventricular septal defect (VSD) in 2001. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pulmonary atresia with a VSD is like a very severe form of TOF.
"He was fine," Heather Rippetoe, Nathan's mom said of his birth. "You know, we were just happy and elated."
Within an hour of his birth though, Heather said nurses could tell something was wrong.
"I just knew that he was very sick cause they were giving him oxygen, and he was so blue," she said.
Doctors diagnosed Nathan with pulmonary atresia with a VSD, but they also wanted to test him for a chromosome disorder.
"They told me that if it was positive, they would allow me to sit in a room and rock him until he passed away," Heather said. "That, destroyed me."
Nathan tested negative for the chromosome disorder, which gave doctors the green light to operate on him.
Heather said Nathan's heart defect meant he had a hole in his heart, and he was missing a pulmonary valve on his right side.
Nathan needed another surgery two months later to continue treating his condition.
"There was a lot of praying," Heather said. "We are firm believers in faith."
Fifteen years later, Nathan is a healthy teenager who his mom describes as fearless.
"I like to play football, play golf, wrestle, anything outdoors," he said.
He still visits a cardiologist once a year at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, but his mom said there are no major lingering effects from the heart surgeries.
"I was like 'Oh my gosh, this is Nathan,'" Heather said. "I felt for Jimmy Kimmel because I once was that parent that did not know what the future held."
Nathan said it breaks his heart to know that Kimmel's son will go through what he went through, but he said the journey does get better.
"Don't give up on your dreams," Nathan said. "Just push forward."
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