WASHINGTON -- You may know heart disease is a major problem among adults, but what you may not know is it's also a big problem for kids.
Popular Fox News anchor Bret Baier and his family have learned the hard way what it's like to be a part of the staggering statistics. They believe God is using their journey to help others.
When Bret and his wife Amy welcomed their son Paul into the world, they were told he was the picture of health. But as they prepared to take him home from the hospital a nurse, who they now call their guardian angel, noticed Paul looked pale.
After a round of tests they discovered Paul had five congenital heart defects.
Bret and Amy were devastated. Not only could they not take their son home, their 6-pound, 12-ounce baby needed open heart surgery within days and there was a chance he wouldn't survive.
"We just didn't know, I mean, looking back, it was a hard time," Amy said.
"It still hits home," Bret added. "I mean this many years later, we've been through this many surgeries and this many angioplasties and you can see, it's still emotional."
Bret is reliving the adventure in his new book, Special Heart, A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love.
When Amy first learned the news about her son, just two days after giving birth, she briefly became the oldest patient at Children's National Medical Center.
"I just collapsed and I think the stress of it all, I think my body emotionally just shut down," she said.
Power of Prayer
However, it was a seminal moment for the Baiers. As Amy regained consciousness, the couple decided to stop feeling sorry for themselves and focus all their energy on their son.
Bret, the journalist, would take care of the medical details and Amy would focus on being a loving mother.
Each day as they left the hospital they gave each other a high five to celebrate being one day closer to bringing Paulie, as they call him, home.
The Baiers later learned that at that very moment of strength and clarity a church congregation in Colorado was praying for them.
It was the first time in their lives the couple truly experienced the power of prayer, but hardly the last.
"The day of Paul's heart surgery we had a local priest come and pray with us in the little hospital chapel," Amy explained. "And as we were praying, we were all kind of holding hands and I saw this vision of these beams of light all around Paul's surgical bed and I just knew in my heart he was going to be okay."
As the time for Paul's first heart surgery grew closer, the Baier's, who are Roman Catholic, made a decision for their son.
"Paul was going into surgery and we realized he wasn't baptized, and you know, there was risk going into surgery," Amy said. "And we just wanted to make sure he got on God's scoreboard beforehand."
"The thing that was special was that there was nothing fancy about it. It was just a curtain around a bassinette and beeps and wires, but it was all of our family," Bret recalled.
"And there's something beautiful about having family members all around Paul, and we wanted to make sure all of our family members had met Paul," Amy said through tears, remembering they knew there was a chance their family members may never see Paul again.
A Lively 7-Year-Old
Today Paul is doing great. To look at his calendar full of soccer, baseball, basketball, and golf lessons you'd never know he has a defective heart.
"In fact, I was joking with his surgeon a couple weeks ago and said, 'You know, that last surgery couldn't you have just turned it down just a hair?'" Bret said, laughing, "Because we have to run them like dogs to get them to sleep."
Paul celebrates his seventh birthday this June and has already had three open heart surgeries, seven angioplasties, and one stomach surgery unrelated to his heart defects.
At bedtime he prays for other kids with health issues and, as a veteran with the scars to prove it, he has some advice.
"Don't be scared; be brave and don't think about it. It's going to be really fast and at the end you're gonna get a lot of special treats," he said.
Watching Paul go through his last surgery as a young boy was tough on everyone.
"It was really hard going through this surgery, but I'm glad I made it through," Paul told CBN News.
His younger brother Daniel is glad, too.
"Paul's my best friend and I'm glad he's healthy now," Daniel said shyly as he clung to his dad.
Life Is Precious
Many do not realize that a lot of kids are just like Paul, born with congenital heart defects.
"That stat is staggering," Bret said. "One out of 100 kids is born with a congenital heart defect, and half of them have to have some sort of surgery or procedure in the first six months of their life."
The Baiers know Paul is fortunate; many babies leave the hospital undiagnosed.
It's something they'd like to see change, which is why Bret is donating every penny he makes on his book to groups working on pediatric heart disease.
Paul has at least one more heart surgery in his future, along with more than a few angioplasties. It's not what they hoped for their son, but now Bret and Amy see their family's circumstance as a gift.
"I feel like God tapped us for a reason and we have a great responsibility in that and whatever our course is I feel like we'll get through it," Amy said. "And I think it's strengthened our marriage and us as parents, hopefully, and kind of put blinders on us to what's important and we don't get distracted."
"As tough as all of this has been to go through there is an amazing blessing that we have in that we have perspective on life, perspective on how precious life is. We also have this ability, I think, to tell our story to maybe help other people" Bret said.
God's Bigger Plan
"Bret's friend who introduced us, set us up on a blind date, said to me that 'When you meet Bret you better buckle up because you will be in for a ride. It will never be dull,'" Amy recalled. "And it was so true because from the moment I met Bret it has never slowed down once and it has always been exciting and it has always been an adventure. I don't think we've stopped once."
"We didn't always know how the ride was gonna go. It's been interesting," Bret added. "But God's plan is a big part of that and you look back and you think all these coincidences there's really, if you think about it coincidences -- it's something bigger, there's something bigger happening. Because a lot of our life we can look back at different moments where we think 'Hey, this had to be a bigger plan, a blueprint.'"
"And I think we're fortunate because we share those same values and thoughts and together I think we make a good team," she said.
"We do," Bret said, giving his wife a high five.