"As a parent, watching your kid go down the hall on this gurney, you want to be the one on the gurney," Bret Baier tells PEOPLE in this week's issue

By Adam Carlson and Jen Juneau
January 20, 2021 10:00 AM
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Bret Baier's son Paul is recovering from his fourth open-heart surgery — and according to his dad, he has "made leaps and bounds" since the 10-hour procedure last month.

In an exclusive chat with PEOPLE via Zoom for this week's issue, the Fox News anchor, his wife Amy and their 13-year-old son open up about Paul's recent surgery, including how it was hopefully the biggest one that he will need going forward.

"It's sort of scary leading up [to the surgery] but once it's happened, you're like, 'What was I scared about?' It's just the leading-up-to-it part," says the teen, who had his first procedure as a newborn and then two more at 10 months old and 6 years old.

Paul was born with five congenital heart defects and, as Baier explains, "his heart was essentially pumping the wrong way, and we didn't know before birth."

Bret Baier and son Paul
Bret Baier (right) and son Paul at their Florida home. Paul strikes a pose similar to when he was a toddler, when PEOPLE first featured his health journey in 2009.
| Credit: Nicolas Mêle

Once he was born, "a nurse actually noticed that he was turning pale and took him back for tests," says Baier, 50. "At first [they thought] it was an infection and then a cardiologist said that he's got this issue, a very complex heart, and he would need surgery in the first few hours. Otherwise, he would die."

Baier — who also shares 10-year-old son Daniel with Amy — recognizes that "everybody" who is a parent "has something" in terms of difficulties they face with their children, and says Paul's medical condition is "[their] something."

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Bret Baier and family
Bret Baier, wife Amy and son Paul
| Credit: Courtesy Bret Baier
Bret Baier and son Paul
Bret Baier and son Paul
| Credit: Courtesy Bre Baier

"As a parent, watching your kid go down the hall on this gurney, you want to be the one on the gurney," says the father of two. "You don't want your kid to have to go through this."

But after the successful procedure (which they didn't know would be the most complicated since his first until after the fact), the family says that Paul shouldn't have to have another heart surgery until he's in his mid-20s — and it should be minor in comparison.

"That surgery was heavy, and clearly, he could've not made it, and we're just really fortunate that he did. And so, it's excruciating to go through. We don't want to go through it again," Baier tells PEOPLE of the "hairy" procedure, during which his son's connector exploded, sending blood "everywhere."

Baier adds, "Hopefully we won't, but we'll play it by ear, and I think this is going to be the one that really sets him apart as far as getting him to where he's going to feel good. At least, that's the thought."

Bret Baier and family
Bret Baier and family
| Credit: Nicholas Mele

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Now, Paul says a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic has been that it has made it "easier" on his recovery, in that he's not "missing out" on in-person schooling, since it's virtual anyway — but there's one non-virtual activity that he is itching to get back to.

"Golf is my favorite sport. ... [My doctor] says I have to wait six to eight weeks, which I'm very excited for, because we're planning to go to Florida, and it's perfect weather there [at that time]," Paul says. "I can't wait to play my next round."

Amy praises her older child's "resilience" and "incredible attitude," both now and over the years he has faced these big medical procedures as a child.

"I think he looks at it positively, and I think that's sort of the secret, is that great attitude. I think that helps the healing process," she says. "I think focusing on the next thing and not what you're going through is a lot easier, and he always amazes us. So right when we're really worried and scared about it, he puts us at ease with his resilience."

For more from Bret Baier, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.