My recent interview with Bret Baier, and his new book "Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love"
Gayle Trotter: I am speaking with Bret Baier, Fox News Chief Political Anchor, and anchor of the top-ranked evening news program, Special Report. Thank you for joining me, Bret.
Bret Baier: Thanks Gayle, good to be here.
GT: Bret wrote an awesome book called Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love, which chronicles his journey in his career and his family life. It is hilarious and vividly written, and it brought me to tears at least twice. Bret, when you were first dating your now current wife Amy, you were worried that some of your habits would turn her off. Why did she think that there was a dead body in your bedroom?
BB: [Laughter] We met on a blind date, and we went to a Rolling Stones concert. I fell head over heels quickly, but I was notoriously messy. She is notoriously clean, has a little bit of OCD, but one of her greatest traits is she likes everything organized. I realized this early on. I decided when she came back into town after our first blind date, that I would try to clean up my apartment and myself. There were a lot of clothes. What I could not fit in my car, I stuffed in the corner of my small apartment in Adams Morgan in Washington. I covered it with a black sheet, thinking that this would solve the problem -- like a black hole of laundry. It did not. While the rest of the apartment was clean, she immediately saw that and said, “What is that, is that a dead body under there?” I almost lost the courting there at the beginning, but I recovered quickly.
GT: When your newborn son was born, he had congenital heart defects and he almost did not survive. How did you reconcile your dreams for him with the very real possibility that he would have a different life than you had imagined?
BB: It was hard, Gayle. We did not know at the beginning, Amy had a normal pregnancy. Paul, our son, was born and given a clean bill of health. We had about 18 to 20 hours where we were meeting this new addition and were on the highest of highs. I had images of him being Master’s Champion, and maybe Super Bowl quarterback, and was thinking about all kinds of things. Then a nurse noticed that Paul started to turn pale. She took him back for some tests. They thought it was a bacterial infection. They called in a cardiologist as a precaution.
This doctor whom we did not know came in and said, “I need you to sit down. Your son has a very complex heart. He has at least four, probably five congenital heart defects. And if he is not operated on within the next few days, he is going to die.”
We went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of moments. It was tough to reconcile. At first it was anger, “Who are you, how do you know this?” We just had this blissful time with our son. This is wrong. Then it was pity, sorrow, “Why is this happening to us?” Then it turned into eventually, determination, that with prayers and family and support, we could be the parents that Paul needed us to be to get over these hurdles.
GT: Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan memorably cried out, “Why me, why me?” after she was brutally attacked by a rival’s supporter. Did you ever cry out to God, “Why me?” when you learned that your son faced life-threatening challenges?
BB: Oh yeah, at the beginning of finding out, we went to some dark places. The way we were talking, the way we were thinking about it, it was not helpful at all, and it was a lot of “Why us?” We had this idyllic life and it was a beautiful, blissful time with the baby, and now this. It got to a point, Gayle, where he was transported to Children’s National, and he was on all kinds of machines and IV’s, all kinds of things. Amy came over from the hospital where she gave birth, Sibley, and she was obviously still recovering from giving birth. She saw that they were trying to find an artery in his arm, and they were not accomplishing it and had to keep on poking his arm. There was a lot of tension and she collapsed. She became the oldest patient at Children’s National on a gurney, running down the hall.
I am holding her hand, worried about Paul in the CICU, and we go to the emergency room where she revived. It was at that moment that, I do not know how, but we came up with the mantra, “We are one day closer to getting Paul home.” We decided that we needed to put aside all of this stuff about “Why me?” and put aside the self-pity, and put aside all of the fears for now, and think about him, praying for strength. Think about the doctors and nurses and what they are able to do, and rely on our family and friends so that we could be this positive influence and put an environment around him that would enable him to succeed because he had a lot of fighting to do. We needed to be in his corner. At the end of every day, we had a cheery high five and we said, “We are one day closer.”
GT: I am blown away by your inspiring descriptions of your wife Amy’s efforts to touch, speak to, and love on your newborn Paul, even as he was tangled in wires and very fragile. Where do you think she gained the strength?
BB: From that discussion we had in the emergency room, and every day we would go to this little chapel in Children’s. It is non-denominational (we are Catholics), and we would go there and open the Bible that rests there on this little stand, and we would flip to a section. I know some people do that, and you just read it. A number of times we sat there just in silence. I think the support of our family, the prayers that we were getting from people around the globe via e-mail, I was putting out updates every day, sending out these e-mails that were then being shared exponentially for many, many people. We would get these just beautiful things back that I would read to Amy. That is, honestly, where the strength came from. We are big believers in the power of prayer, and some people are not, but it was our vehicle to get to the place where we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That is where it came from.
GT: How did you protect your marriage through the stress and fear of three open-heart surgeries and seven angioplasties that Paul underwent?
BB: As strange as it is to hear, these events for us have brought us together, not divided us. Amy is a rock. She is really solid. If I ever needed affirmation that I married the right woman, these experiences bore that affirmation. We played off each other. When she was up, I was down, and when I was up, she was down. We helped each other. We had different roles as you mentioned. She was more about touching Paul and singing to him and pumping breast milk to make sure he had that for feedings. I was more about the logistics, making the trains run on time, and also keeping everybody up to date about what was happening. So together, we have made a great team, and that, believe it or not, has helped our marriage a lot.
GT: You are not a doctor so how did you use your journalistic training to gain information, assess risk, and decide on a course of action for Paul’s care?
BB: I asked a ton of questions, and part of being a journalist is becoming an instant expert in things, even if you have a day to be that. I asked just a million questions. I am sure I was the most annoying parent there. But I kept on asking questions, and I actually took notes at times and the thing I tell parents going in to this is, you have to be your child’s advocate. No one else is looking out for your child in particular. Sure they do all they can and they provide, most of the times, wonderful healthcare, and they are trying to help, but individually, you are your child’s best advocate.
I looked at it like these doctors were on my panel, on my show. I asked them all kinds of questions down the row. We came to the part where a lot of times in a litigious society that we are, it is tough to get doctors to say exactly what they think is the right thing to do, because of all the insurance and malpractice, and if things do not go the right way. So the best thing that I eventually got to was “If it was your son, what would you do?” And for some reason, that question is somehow disarming. It is like the key that unlocks the litigious box. By phrasing it that way, I got a lot more candid answers.
GT: Roger Ailes, head of Fox News reached out to you and offered his support. Did you experience this as an obligatory gesture by him or did it mean something more?
BB: No, it meant a lot. He was one of the first people to call as we were getting settled at Children’s National. I could tell it was not just checking the box. The call was emotional, supportive, and I could tell he meant it. He had a unique experience – and I did not know it at the time, I came to learn it later – he had a blood disease, hemophilia. He almost bled out a couple of times as a child so he spent a lot of time in hospitals. He has checked in with us for every surgery. He said to me at one time, not the first surgery but a couple after, “Just know that this is going to make Paul a tough kid. He is going to be better in his position in the world for all that he has had to go through at the beginning.”
GT: Does your experience with a loved one with a challenging physical condition give you any special insight on today’s hot topics that you share with America on Special Report?
BB: Yeah, first of all it gives me perspective. It gives me perspective on what matters. Sometimes, in Washington in particular, the battles back and forth on Capitol Hill on both sides of the aisle can seem pretty silly in the big picture. It is important – a lot of these issues are very important to a lot of people around the country – but it is also important to remember the families dealing with big things, and beyond merely what is happening here, or beyond the going entertainment story of the day. It gives me perspective.
My second insight is about healthcare. It gave me insight as we were gearing up to cover a lot of the healthcare questions. It gave me a great insight. Children’s National is a hospital that treats every person who walks through the door because it is a charity and they have an ability to raise money. Most hospitals do that, but this was a case where I was sitting next to people in different scenarios. Some of them did not speak English. Some of them clearly were trying to get there in between jobs and did not have the luxury of having a job that let them be at the hospital 24/7. I saw the tough part about all sides of health care.
GT: Bret, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about your book. I hope everyone buys it and reads it, and I understand that all of the profits go to supporting this cause.
BB: Yes, one hundred percent of the money I receive from the book will go to non-profit, pediatric heart disease research and treatment. We have raised a lot of money so far – we spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The best part about the book was that I have received so many stories from other people telling me their stories. That has been inspirational to me.