For the better part of the last decade, Amy and Bret Baier – the latter known to millions as the anchor of Special Report, the top-rated hard-news program that airs each weeknight at 6 pm ET on the Fox News Channel – have been living a dream and a nightmare, all at once.
The couple has two beautiful children, a beautiful home, social prominence in the nation’s capital, front-row seats to history, and all the accoutrement of success one could dream of.
But their older son Paul was born with congenital heart defects, an especially “complex” set of them, that required open heart surgery on the child’s twelfth day of life. He would go on to have two more such surgeries, and seven angioplasties, all before his seventh birthday.
Although Paul has grown up to do all the things that rambunctious little boys do, from playing soccer to complaining about chores, and the couple has been blessed with a second son – the irrepressible Daniel -- what Amy and Bret Baier have been forced to confront has been nothing short of terrifying. Such is the lot of parents whose child suffers from a chronic, and potentially life-threatening, illness.
Drawing on their religious faith and plunging themselves into tireless philanthropic work on behalf of Children’s National Medical Center and pediatric heart causes, Amy and Bret – and little Paulie – seem to have weathered the worst. The youngster still faces another open heart surgery in a few years, but is expected to be able to live happily, without need for additional surgeries, thereafter.
With co-author Jim Mills, a respected former Capitol Hill producer for Fox News, Bret has published a memoir of his family’s medical, spiritual, and intensely personal odyssey, entitled Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love (Center Street Books, 2014). The book has already entered several printings and spent more than a month on the New York Times bestseller list.
I have known Bret since the summer of 1996 – before Fox News even existed – when I took over a local reporter/anchor job at the NBC affiliate in Rockford, Illinois that Bret had just left, for the greener pastures of Raleigh, North Carolina. We have worked alongside each other in the Washington bureau of Fox News for more than a decade, and our friendship grew close after he succeeded Brit Hume as anchor of Special Report, a program on which I appear regularly. My wife Sara and I have two boys of roughly the same ages as the Baiers, and we have followed their journey closely and with compassion.
Visiting The Foxhole this week – the last stop on his nationwide book tour (“saving the best for last,” the author said) – Bret described how he and Amy handled one of the most distressing aspects of their predicament: Paul’s own expanding awareness, as he grew, of exactly what was wrong with him, and exactly how invasive and painful it was going to be, at each stage, for his heart to be fixed.
“It’s tough,” Baier said in The Foxhole. “You had to come up with a way to deal with the psychology of it. And you know, we always said [to Paul] that when you go to the hospital for one of these procedures, an angioplasty or open heart surgery, that you’re getting superpowers. Well, you know, the statute of limitations on superpowers explaining it all is kind of limited!”
Bret said Paul, now seven, has “digested” the basics of his situation. “He kind of owns it. And you know, we still have challenges and hurdles ahead, but I think he’s got a good grasp of it….I think this book really lays it out – and how we, as a family, got through it.”
Bret said he wrote the book both for his family and to help other families cope with some major, possibly devastating, challenge of their own. He expects Paul will read Special Heart when he’s older, and appreciate the rockiness of his early life.
“And when he’s sixteen,” Bret said on The Foxhole with a chuckle, “and he’s asking for the car keys, I’m gonna say: ‘Go read that book, young man! And see what you put your mother and I through!’”
During his visit, Bret also commented on what he sees as the hallmarks the Obama era; and he endured stoically the fantastical reversal of fortune embodied in sitting on his own set and answering questions, not asking them, at the mercy of his friend, consigliere, and occasional tormentor, the host of The Foxhole.