As I heard Bret Baier talking about his book, Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage, and Love I thought back to my son’s own struggle with congenital heart disease. While reading the book memories were invoked of my son’s open-heart surgery two and a half years ago. Bret Baier was kind enough to grant an interview to discuss his book and what he and I have in common.
My husband and I remember that joyous day when Michael was born, only to face fear and dread after being informed by our pediatrician that our son has VSD, a heart murmur. Thankfully, Michael was not in the same dire straights as Bret’s son, Paul. Congenial heart disease is not as uncommon as people think: one out of every hundred children born has some type of congenital heart defect, and half of those will need surgery or another type procedure.
In discussing our children’s experiences, it became obvious Michael and Paul have a lot in common. Both were lucky enough to have fate on their side. My twenty-four year old son went to his doctor for a general check-up. Since he had not undergone an EKG for a number of years the doctor suggested Michael receive one. After reading the report and consulting many other cardiologists, it was found that our son needed open-heart surgery to repair his VSD valve, an aorta tear that could kill him if gone undetected, and a heart tag that needed to be clipped.
Bret noted that fate played a role in saving Paul as it saved Michael. “The first nurse had a seizure and was pulled off duty. Nurse Kennedy was assigned to our room and after examining Paul found him to be very pale. She is the one that spotted it. At first it was thought it might be a bacterial infection, but we soon found out that Paul had numerous heart defects and if he did not have surgery in a matter of days he would die. Had Nurse Kennedy not noticed it he would have been home with us and we could have had a baby turning blue with the possibility he would have died in his crib. Fate also played a role in that the cardiologist paged happened to be one of the top in their field because they happened to be driving past the hospital. I do believe there are a lot of things that happen that are bigger than coincidence. I think it is part of a bigger plan.”
We both understand how in a moment’s time the emotion of blissfulness from having a newborn turns to despair after receiving the news. Bret wants people who go through tough times to understand “Both Amy and I had our moments, going into really dark places. For her, it initially was more intense because she just gave birth. She actually collapsed in the first few days at Children’s National and became the oldest patient there. That is when we had our moment and decided to be the parents Paul needed us to be. We changed our outlook to optimism. Our mantra was giving each other a high five at the end of the day, knowing we were one day closer to bringing Paul home.”
No matter how old your child, a parent watching their child being wheeled on that gurney heading toward open-heart surgery feels a sense of hopelessness. Bret’s feelings conveyed what a parent goes through, “As parents we want to protect and cuddle our children. That was the feeling we had and wished we could have changed the dynamics. We turned to prayer, family, and a positive attitude. The challenge was for it not to overwhelm us.”
While going through all the trials and tribulations there was the feeling that as parents it was ‘us against the world.’” Bret agrees, “We definitely drew closer. I think couples that go through something like this consider themselves a team. We called ourselves ‘Team Baier.’ When one of us got down, the other stepped up. Amy and I were each others’ rock.”
After undergoing an experience like this people examine what is really important in life. Bret and Amy as well as my husband and I knew that we had to balance family with our professions. Bret commented, “It had given me a perspective about life. Everyone gets so busy these days. My profession is non-stop, 24/7. But our society is so engrossed in other things besides personal interaction such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I have learned the time I spend with my wife and children is the most important time of the week. If there is something at one of my children’s schools I always try to be there. Fortunately, I have a great wife who is a rock in this whole thing. Life is precious because before you turnaround it’s gone.”
As our children get older it does not get any easier. There is always the next hurdle to leap. Bret regards Paul’s last surgery as being the hardest since “being a six year old we now had to explain it to him. I was having recurring nightmares that I was giving a eulogy for Paul. I had to fight through that and not sleeping well. The way we dealt with Paul was to have his cardiologist speak to his kindergarten class. We gave all the children stethoscopes. Paul essentially held a press conference and answered questions. He even lifted his shirt to show his scar. His prognosis is great. He is the tallest child in the class and is full of energy.”
As a parent who had a similar experience to Bret, I am grateful he wrote the book. It should serve as an inspiration and awareness, especially since there are children out there that can be saved. Bret tells of an early warning test that is placed on a newborn’s fingernails to detect the oxygen level and can signal whether there is a congenital heart defect. Currently it is mandated in thirty-six states.
Bret stated, he wrote the book, “To help people going through a tough time, whatever it is. I also wanted to raise consciousness of congenital heart disease as well as to raise money for the non-profits that are doing the research.” Special Heart is the story of every parent’s worst nightmare. It is an inspirational example of overcoming hardship through faith, courage, and perseverance.