Bret Baier, anchor of Special Report, the 6 p.m. nightly news on the FOX News Channel, isn’t averse to puns on his name. In his first book, Special Heart, released this past June, he writes about the Three Baiers: Papa Baier; Mama Baier for his wife, Amy; and Baby Baier for his son, Paul. Such plays on a word might be an unconscious wish that the family’s recent history was just a fairy tale. Instead, it involved dealing with a dark realityÑthe possibility of Baby Baier’s death.
Subtitled “A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love, ” Baier’s book deals with his and Amy’s struggle to cope with Paul’s battle against pediatric heart disease. The journalist told St. Anthony Messenger that writing the book was “cathartic in a way. But I found a real joy in seeing the finished product and now find joy in getting feedback from people. “
Such a positive emotion signals that the family is near the end of the severe trials that began when Paul was born in June 2007. At the time, Baier was chief White House correspondent for FOX News. He writes that he and Amy “were over the moon with joy when we found out we were going to become parents. ” A prenatal checkup detected the possibility of “a slight heart echo, ” but all seemed fine when they went to the hospital to welcome their newborn, who would be named Paul to honor Amy’s father. A difficult delivery brought the infant into the world with what seemed to be no lingering problems.
That would soon change, however, and when it did, Bret and Amy rushed to God for help. “I was born into a family that went to church every Sunday and valued the religion overall, ” Baier says. “It was a big part of my upbringing. ” Years of Catholic education, he continues, gave him “experiences that brought me closer to the Church. But college happened. A distance happened. I wasn’t going to church every Sunday. [Religion] wasn’t part of my daily routine. Amy was much the same way: born into a family that went to church every Sunday and valued the Church. But she had fallen away a bit as a young adult. “
When they married, the couple went to Mass “occasionally, ” Baier admits, “but it wasn’t a priority, nor was prayer, except when there were dire straits. But I had that upbringing that was clearly part of who I was. “
A Parent’s Nightmare
The couple would fall back on their Catholic underpinnings when Beth Kennedy, a substitute nurse in the hospital where Paul was born, noticed something that other medical personnel had not: Paul’s color wasn’t right. When a test for a bacterial infection came back negative, everyone but Beth was relieved. She insisted that more tests be conducted and that a doctor be consulted.
The physician who was paged turned out to be Gerard Martin, head of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Martin’s experience, examinations, and tests led him to one literally and figuratively heartbreaking conclusion: Paul needed immediate surgery to correct multiple cardiac abnormalities. He was born with two arteries on one side of his heart, a hole in his heart, and a blocked aorta. Baier says that the diagnosis tapped “into everything I had always been told about prayer and the vehicle of the Catholic Church to get to where we needed to be. “
Paul would eventually have three heart surgeries and seven angioplasties. He faces more in the future as he grows. Throughout their trials, the Baiers deepened their faith and refused to see anything but God’s providence at work. While some people would be tempted to blame God for Paul’s troubles, the newsman says, “I think of it as a loving God who had a bigger plan for Paul and for us. ” That plan began unfolding when Baier turned to social media to inform family and friends of Paul’s impending surgery and the threat to his life.
“What we received back was prayers, ” he recalls. “Absorbing those prayers lifted us up. It also enabled me to have perspective and look back at things that had happened up to that point in time. Beth Kennedy, the nurse that notices that Paul turns paleÑwe would have been home if it had not been for her. We call her Beth ‘the Angel’ Kennedy. The fact that this cardiologist was driving by the hospital when the page goes out. [He is] one of the preeminent cardiologists in the world. “
Such events, he continues, are sometimes dismissed as coincidences. “It felt better and more accurate to say it was part of a bigger thing, ” Baier says. “Can I prove that? No. Could I definitively say it in my journalistic sense? No. But I think that’s where faith comes inÑand hope and courage and love. “
Asked if he could understand people who turn against God in such trying circumstances, the anchor replies, “I can understand where the feelings would take you because we went to some dark places at the beginning. I feel for people who go the other way. I think the journey is much easier if you know there are other footsteps next to yours. “
Amy and Bret have walked alongside those footsteps for several years now. They have survived, in part, because they rely on each other. “It was a roller coaster, ” says Baier. “I would be strong and up, and Amy would be down. Then she would be up, and I would be down. I’ve heard that couples have hard times through crises. This was a hard time, but we were tackling it together. It only made our relationship stronger because we were helping each other get through it. Our faith had a big part of it. We walked many times to the chapel in Children’s National and said a prayer. We had Paul baptized, which was really a powerful ceremony in the ICU. “
Support from Others
Guiding the Baiers through their troubles was another FOX News journalist, Brit Hume, whose adult son had committed suicide. Baier, who succeeded Hume in anchoring Special Report, says that “Brit’s early counsel was really important to me because I knew he knew the darker points of life and dealing with loss. ” After his son’s death, Baier continues, Hume “turned to his church and the BibleÑwe’re of different [denominations] but the same mentalityÑ so his advice and counsel were really substantive. He basically said, as hard as this is right now, it’s going to get better, and you have to trust in God and the doctors, and you have got to put it in God’s hands. It was a message that was recurring in prayers from people around the world. We got there eventually; it took us a while, but we did. “
Some people may react to the strengthened faith of the Baiers by saying that it’s easy to love God when the outcome is positive. Asked what would have happened to his faith if Paul had not survived, the newsman replies, “I’d like to say that we got to a place of ‘What is going to happen is going to happen.’ But I haven’t felt that. I have talked to many families who have lost children, and their courage and their grace after that has encouraged me that we could do the same thing. “
Baier witnessed one family’s travail over their little girl, named Maggie, who was in the hospital at the same time as Paul. On the day after she died, her mother called the Baiers to see how their child’s surgery went. Baier would later meet Maggie’s father at a book signing.
“I had never really circled back with the family, ” the journalist recalls. “I was sensitive about privacy, and I didn’t want to be pounding them about that story. He came to a signing with a picture of Maggie and a prayer card from her funeral, and gave them to me. He said that his family is so grateful that Maggie is living on in the pages of Special Heart. I got up and gave him a big hug, and we’ve been communicating ever since. “
A Growing Family
There is now another Baby Baier that the parents have to watch over: Daniel, Paul’s younger brother by three years. Asked what steps he and Amy have taken to assure that Daniel isn’t ignored with so much focus on his brother, Baier admits that “it’s a big issue that we think about. He has handled it tremendously, but we are very sensitive to it. He has said, ‘I want a scar like Paul’s scar.’ And we said, ‘No, no, no, you really don’t.’ Their relationship has really developed, and they’re best friends. Before Paul’s [most recent] open-heart surgery, Daniel took out his plastic stethoscope and said, ‘Paulie, I’m going to give you a checkup right now so you don’t have to have open-heart surgery. I’m going to fix your heart right here.’
“Seeing that moment, you see the love between children. It’s really a powerful thing. We go to extra lengths to make sure Daniel doesn’t feel left out. We got him his own book that he signed and made sure he saw all the pictures of him in it. “
Over the past few years and through multiple procedures on his son, Baier has often reflected on the troubling question of why children suffer and die.
“It’s tough to rationalize and get your head around, ” he admits. “I don’t know that it’s our job to ask why. It was our job to get through it. We had the mantra, ‘We’re one day closer to getting Paul home.’ Once we got to that, we could seeÑeven though it might be a long way awayÑthe light at the end of the tunnel. We could see an image: for Amy, of Paul running on the beach; for me, Paul walking down the first fairway. However we got there, that was the most important thing. Trying to rationalize why this is happening is a waste of energy.
“When we look back, as crazy as it sounds, this was a blessing. It gave us a perspective about life, our family, and what’s important, and a purpose, a charity, and a cause. ” The newsman has raised nearly $11 million for the hospital where Paul was treated.
But even as far as his family has come, Baier knows that there are more trials on the way as Paul faces additional surgical procedures. “Our story is continuing, ” he says. “We have hurdles ahead. “