Any parent who tells you that they have never struggled with a child most likely is playing a little loose with the truth. Every family I have ever encountered, no matter how strong or faith committed, has had a challenge that has tested their resolve -- with most surviving the test. Then there are those who have to live through unimaginable tests of character.
Bret Baier was floating through life on a trajectory that few ever experience. His career was reaching an apex: he was on a path to be named as anchor of Fox News’ Special Report. He had married the woman of his dreams. They had prepared their new condo for their first child. Then the unthinkable happened -- something that Bret told me neither he nor his wife Amy had ever remotely faced in their mostly blessed lives.
Soon after the birth of their first child, a beautiful boy named Paul (known as Paulie), they found out that his heart was actually constructed backwards, with five major congenital defects. Remarkably, there were no signs of any problems as Amy breezed through the pregnancy while taking every precaution to ensure a healthy baby. The Baiers and their families went from elation to feeling despair, fear and helplessness in the blink of an eye, as they were told that if Paulie did not have open heart surgery, he would most certainly die. They entered a world they never knew and never envisioned they would experience in their wildest imaginations. Paulie was just one day old.
Baier decided to tell of his family’s struggle in a book called Special Heart. Despite sharing many intimate details, Baier felt compelled to share it with us. In the beginning, his wife Amy was not totally on board. Telling the story of their son’s three open heart surgeries, seven angioplasties plus unrelated stomach surgery, with all the encompassing elements of their lives, meant a major loss of privacy. As Bret drafted the book, Amy warmed to it. Bret, in a moment of clarity provided by his father-in-law, had adopted the experience as his “cause.”
At this point in our interview, I brought up the most moving moment of the book. The Baiers had become fixtures at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. They made a decision to wait for world-renown pediatric heart surgeon Richard Jonas to return from overseas to perform the complex surgery on Paulie. During this time, they became acquainted with other families who similarly had children facing life-threatening illnesses. The morning they arrived for Paulie’s first surgery, they were surprised that the family of 9-month-old Maggie was not there, only to be told the little girl had died the night before. They were shattered.