A Barbara Walters Special, 'A Matter of Life and Death'

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These are intimate portraits of the most public figures, infused with tears and laughter. When I jokingly asked Williams if he "moo-ed" now that he had a cow-valve replacement, the comic genius shot back, "No, but I give a great quart of cream."

Our report will also take you on an unprecedented behind-the-scenes journey of my own battle from the discovery of a faulty heart valve to the operating table and recovery. Normally, I don't discuss my private life but I want people to know, particularly women, how serious heart disease is and what remarkable medical treatment is available.

The most famous open-heart surgery of our time unquestionably belongs to former President Clinton. In 1955, Dwight Eisenhower became the first sitting president to suffer a heart attack.

At the time, his illness stunned the nation. Eisenhower survived but four additional heart attacks ultimately killed him.

A similar fate awaited Clinton in August 2004 when, after experiencing chest pain, severe tightness, shortness of breath and fatigue, he learned that he needed immediate quadruple-bypass surgery. "I was heavily blocked. I had 90 percent blockage," the president told me.

It wasn't until the 1960s with landmark advances such as valve replacement and the heart-lung machine that survival rates dramatically increased, as I learned talking to Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of the few female heart surgeons in the world and author of "Heart Matters."

"It took a long time for us to develop open-heart surgery because, for the longest time, people thought that if we opened the chest and operated on their heart, that somehow their soul would not remain intact," she says. "And, so, we simply would take patients who had chest pain, bring them into the hospital, put them on bed rest and if they survived, they survived."

All of us in the "Cracked Chest Club" are lucky. Having your chest cracked open sounds scary … but it doesn't have to be, especially when you get a second chance at life.

"A BARBARA WALTERS SPECIAL: A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH," FEATURING THE PERSONAL AND EMOTIONAL STORIES FROM THE MOST WELL-KNOWN HEART PATIENTS, AIRS FRIDAY, 10 P.M. ET, ON ABC.

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