Yes, Shaun White, the Olympic Gold Medalist, Was Born with a Heart Defect

Monday was a rough return for Jimmy Kimmel. The Jimmy Kimmel Live! host took time off from his show, he revealed, when unexpected complications in his son’s birth required immediate, invasive heart surgery to fix a defect.

A snowboarding legend, then, might have seemed an odd guest choice to host on the show. But it turns out that the legendary Shaun White, one of the most accomplished extreme athletes in the world, was born with the same issue.

“I’m really glad you could come,” Kimmel began after a heartfelt and open discussion of his family’s ordeal in his opening monologue, “because when we were told this operation was going to be happening, everyone said Shaun White had this, Shaun White had this. And I thought, ‘Oh no, my son’s going to be a snowboarder.’ ”

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White, who had his last surgery decades ago, was very matter-of-fact about the condition.

“That is a side effect, yes,” he said. Kimmel asked White to be on the show Monday as he tried to piece together a lineup that could talk about Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia, a serious congenital heart defect that requires surgery in the first few months of life to correct a lack of valve connecting the heart’s right ventricle to the lungs.

Over the seven minutes of the segment, White shared a lot of details about his multiple surgeries and how his condition did — or, more fortunately, did not — affect his childhood.

White had the same operation when he was a newborn. “Similar situation,” he told Kimmel. “Like I was slowly turning blue and my parents knew something was up. The doctors came in and found out that was the scenario, the heart condition, and so I don’t really obviously remember much. It’s kind of, you know… It brought back a lot.”

Referring to a picture that Kimmel shared earlier in the show of his son, White said, “I have the same exact photo, with the tubes and the whatnot… I have a lot of socks actually, from when I was that age because my mom, the only thing she could dress me with was socks because she couldn’t touch me in my tube there, you know.”

“How many operations did you have?” Kimmel asked at one point.

White had several complications, he explained, so there were three. “Yeah, that portion of heart that you know was explained earlier actually broke, the stitching broke. So I had to go back and get it repaired again,” White said. “But yeah, only three, and then I was very lucky they actually stopped doing the artificial valve, sort of.”

White asked whether Kimmel’s son was getting an artificial valve, which he is not.

“That’s great, because those need to be replaced,” explained White. “So I was one of maybe a thousand that won’t have to get the secondary surgery to replace that valve. So I feel very, very fortunate.”

It appeared, as the questions went on, that White was doing a good job of making Kimmel relax a bit. And perhaps he could sense that the audience had, too, because he moved on to questions about White’s younger years and the parents who, obviously, never kept him from taking risks. White managed to tuck a little lesson in for the nervous father apparent in Kimmel. “It was obviously explained, ‘Hey, this is what happened. You should be cautious,’ ” White said. But it wasn’t this, like, hovering over me to make sure I wasn’t getting into trouble… They really let me find my own limitations. So that’s kind of, like, why I feel like I’m so athletic now.”

Hopefully Kimmel can rest easy, knowing his son won’t be limited — at least, no more limited than a two-time Olympic gold medalist who, this year, will be competing in both skateboarding and snowboarding in the summer and winter Olympics.

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