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Small Explosion and Big Fallout in Times Square; Family of Girl in Autism Vaccine Case Holds News Conference

Aired March 06, 2008 - 11:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Parents, what you need to know, Dr. Gupta in the NEWSROOM.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: A developing story from California and the campus, the college campus of UC Davis. Authorities there this hour say a student is in custody after explosive devices were found in a dorm room. That's according to a "Sacramento Bee" report. It says the drama began last night when a woman reported several students had what appeared to be explosives. A school spokesman says that led to the evacuation of more than 400 students from eight dorm buildings. The suspect is a 19-year-old freshman from Torrance. We will continue to watch this story and bring you the latest information as we get it here in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: A small explosion and big fallout in New York Times Square this morning. There are no injuries reported and damage is minor. The device is described as a low-order explosive. But people in nearby hotel rooms reported feeling the blast dozens of stories up. Traffic is again flowing and the search for a suspect is on. Just a few minutes ago in the NEWSROOM, we heard from New York police officials and the city's mayor.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: There was a bicyclist here earlier that somebody said acted suspiciously. Those are the facts that we know. There is no evidence of any connection to anybody else, but that's all we know. And we don't want to get ahead of the story here. We'll only tell you what we know and we're not in the business of speculating.


COLLINS: The explosion happened around 4:00 a.m. local time. Authorities quickly cordoned off the area. Subways were allowed to pass through on the normal routes but were not allowed to stop. Traffic later returned to normal just before rush hour. So the FBI is investigating. Officials with homeland security are monitoring those developments.

HARRIS: A do-over debate in the battle for Democratic delegates, that tops our presidential election coverage this morning. Voters in Florida and Michigan have already gone to the polls. But for Democrats the votes didn't count. The Democratic Party stripped the states of their convention delegates after they violated party rules by moving up their primaries. Now officials in Florida and Michigan are calling for their voters to have a voice. The debate fueled by the tight fight for delegates between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. One suggestion, the states hold repeat primaries. There's the possibility of 210 delegates up for grabs in Florida and 156 in Michigan.

COLLINS: Lawmakers from Florida and Michigan trying to find a solution to a do-over debate, one everybody can live with. That will be the trick. Kate Bolduan, live from Capitol Hill for us this morning now. Kate, what went on at the capital last night?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Relatively late evening meeting. The big question is what can the delegations do? It's a big question that Democratic House members don't have an answer to yet, but what they're trying to get to the bottom of and that's why a group of them, about a dozen members, met here at the capitol last night. They really wanted to put their heads together and begin this discussion of how they think the delegate issue in Michigan and Florida should be resolved, especially with the primary race being so close. Members say that having their delegates count is crucial to keeping this primary race fair.

Now, I'll mention some of the options that they're talking about. They're saying a do over, a new vote in these two states or simply use the results from the primaries that have clearly already happened. Now, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, she criticized going into the meeting, she criticized the Democratic National Committee for the position that the delegates, delegations, the voters and the states, are in now.


REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D) FLORIDA: Unfortunately Howard Dean made the wrong decision initially and that's part of why we have to have this meeting so that we make sure in November we're in the strongest possible position as a party to elect the next president of the United States. We need to undo the damage that was done at the beginning of this process by the Democratic National Committee.


BOLDUAN: But just this morning, the chair of the DNC, Howard Dean said wait a minute, you all knew the rules going in and that there would be consequences. And that's why he says that he and committee are sticking with the position.


HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: The fact of the matter is, you cannot violate the rules of a process and then expect to get forgiven for it. What happens here has a big effect on what happens at the nominating convention, could determine, as you pointed out, the nominee. We've got to play by the rules. If you don't do that, then the half of the people in the Democratic Party whose candidate doesn't win this nomination are going to go away believing they've been cheated.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Now, Dean didn't seem to question the motives of the members crying foul and trying to get to the bottom of this now after the fact, after these primaries happened. A couple of factors that could contribute to this is that the candidates didn't campaign in these two states because they knew that they had been stripped of their delegates. Also, Hillary Clinton did win both primaries, but Barack Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. So clearly this debate is not over. Heidi?

COLLINS: Interesting, too, we just talked with the former U.S. prosecutor Kendall Coffee (ph) who says, what about the voters, what about the voters? It's going to be an interesting one. I bet it's going to go on for a while. Kate Bolduan, thanks so much, live from Capitol Hill.

HARRIS: You know, we are still waiting for results from Tuesday's caucuses in Texas. They could finish counting later today. Ed Lavandera takes a look at the caucus chaos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to say it one more time. Clear this airway now. Move!

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police officers were called into this Houston school to control the crowds, frustrated voters who waited until 3:00 in the morning, eight hours, to finish the caucus.

ROSITA BROUSSARD, TEXAS VOTER: We all feel that our vote doesn't count and they're not worried about our vote.

LAVANDERA: Across Texas there were scenes of chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got people walking off and leaving. It's disorganized and people are getting frustrated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. The process is extremely confusing. No one seems to be in charge.

LAVANDERA: Clinton and Obama supporters also accusing each other of playing games with caucus rules.

TRACEY CARTER, TEXAS VOTER: They told us at first it wasn't enough writing material, so just sign your name and then you're free to go. And then after people had signed their names and they had left, then we get someone else that comes in and says, OK, if you leave, then your vote doesn't count.

LAVANDERA: Then there's the story behind these pictures, a Clinton supporting precinct captain leaving a caucus site with sign-in sheets. Several witnesses claim she refused to take 27 sheets with Obama supporter signatures. And that's when Dallas Democratic Chairwoman Darlene Ewing was called in. DARLENE EWING, DALLAS CO. DEMOCRATIC CHAIRWOMAN: It kind of got into a chase, a little bit of a car chase over the sign-in sheets.

LAVANDERA: A car chase?

EWING: Well, they all ended up at the police station and they called us. And we went out this morning at 1:00 and took possession of the paperwork.

LAVANDERA: Texas Democratic officials say several incidents of voter fraud will probably be investigated, but that these were isolated incidents especially considering there were more than 8,000 caucus sites statewide.

HECTOR NIETO, TEXAS DEMOCRATIC PARTY: When you put a million people across the state into caucuses, of course you're going to have some problems.

LAVANDERA: We're also told Democratic officials are looking into an incident where an Obama supporter flew in from New York and took control of a precinct and the sign-in sheets and Clinton supporters are saying at this particular location that all the sheets with the Clinton supporters' names on them have mysteriously disappeared and now the Clinton campaign is also talking about filing a lawsuit. Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


HARRIS: And stay with CNN for unmatched political coverage throughout the day. We have much more on the candidates and what happens next with the best political team on television. Join us for the CNN "Ballot Bowl" today, noon Eastern.

COLLINS: A closer look. Should Florida and Michigan get do- overs? The Democratic race and the debate over disqualified primary results coming up in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: And welcome back everyone to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris. A shocking security video from a carwash. Can you see it here? A woman takes a high pressure water hose to a little girl.


COLLINS: In Alabama this morning police are stepping up patrols at Auburn University after a freshman's murder. Authorities say there are no sign others on campus are in danger. Lauren Burke (ph) was found shot on a highway several miles from school. Her car was later found burning on campus. Burke died at the hospital.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had been talking just this weekend about how we needed to meet up, we hadn't hung out at all this semester. And in fact, the last comment she said was, was scolding me for not having called her when I said I would. That's been really hard to deal with.


COLLINS: Police say they have not identified a suspect in the case. Burke's sorority is planning a memorial. We expect to get the very latest on the investigation a little bit later today when Auburn hold as news conference.

HARRIS: Your mom may have once threatened to wash your mouth out with soap. Now here's a woman taking that to a whole other level here. You see her using a high-pressure spray on her child. This is surveillance video from an Orlando, Florida, car wash taken February 24. The car wash owner told the television station she called police and ran to the car wash bay, but it was too late. The woman and child had already left. Police believe the child is between three and six years old. They've been trying to find the woman.

COLLINS: A king of the box office two decades ago today facing a life and death drama.


COLLINS: Get this information out to you just in to the CNN NEWSROOM now. According to the Associated Press, Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign is saying that it has raised $3 million online in one day since her primary wins on Tuesday. Once again, Associated Press reporting now that according to the Clinton campaign she's raised $3 million online in one day after those wins in all four -- pardon me, three of the four states on Tuesday night, Ohio and Texas, of course, are the ones that we talked about the most here.

HARRIS: You cast your vote but it doesn't count. That is the situation facing voters in Florida and Michigan, Democratic primaries there. The states penalized for moving up their elections in violation of party rules. Should they vote again? Tom Fiedler is former executive editor of the "Miami Herald," currently a visiting lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He is in Boston. Good to see, you sir. And Todd Spangler, Washington correspondent for the "Detroit Free Press." Let's get this started. Todd, first of all, do we know what voters in Michigan really want? Is there an outcry for some kind of a process here that clears this matter up?

TODD SPANGLER, DETROIT FREE PRESS: People are definitely split over this. There's a real question as to whether or not voters want to do this again. People who are a supporter of Clinton want the results from the January 15th primary to be counted the way they are.

HARRIS: Wow. Tom, I guess the same question for you, slightly different. Boy, there was a process there in Florida. I'm wondering if people there took it seriously. Did they turn out and do people in Florida, Floridians, believe that the results should stand?

TOM FIEDLER, FMR EX. EDITOR, MIAMI HERALD: Not only did they take it seriously, the 1.7 million Florida Democrats turned out. And they are taking this very seriously. And I think that that's what's creating the crisis for the Democratic Party is what do you do with 1.7 million voters in a state that's going to be absolutely critical in November. You certainly don't want to leave them angry at the Democratic Party.

HARRIS: Yes. Tom, take us back. Why did Florida move its primary in the first place for Dems and Republicans?

FIEDLER: Sure, for the same reason that Michigan moved its up. Florida didn't want to be stuck in the choir, so to speak, that was going to be engaged on February 5th. Floridians felt that they had a number of issues that otherwise wouldn't be addressed by the candidates, primarily issues relating to geography and insurance crisis and so forth. And so the one way to get the attention of candidates is to do what Iowa and New Hampshire have done for so long, which is separate yourself from the crowd and come in early.

HARRIS: And one more for Tom and then I'll get one to you, Todd. If Florida hadn't moved its primary, when would Floridians actually have voted?

FIEDLER: Actually they would have voted last week with -- on March 4th with everybody else. I think there's a good chance there will be a revote in Florida.

HARRIS: You do?

FIEDLER: I do. I think what they'll probably do is something like a mail-in primary. Everybody will have an absentee ballot. There's one move to actually open it up to independents who otherwise would not have voted in Florida. I think that will be very attractive to the Democratic National Committee because it will engage independents who so far have been left out of this pretty exciting contest.

HARRIS: Todd, what seems most likely to take place here in Michigan?

SPANGLER: Well, I think at this point it's a long shot to have a caucus but there's so many people talking about it. The buzz is building. It could happen. What the Clinton folks say they would like, what everyone in Michigan says they want is to have the results counted as they were from the primary. The problem with that is you have a whole lot of Obama supporters who don't want that to happen.

HARRIS: Todd, to follow up. Who pays? Your governor says, we're not paying.

SPANGLER: It's a very, very good question. The governor says there's no way that the state can afford certainly not a primary which costs about $10 million to do. A lot of people are going to be angry if they throw out the one that they already had that cost $20 million. Someone's got to come up with the money and it's not the state of Michigan.

HARRIS: Tom, what do they say down in Florida, who pays?

FIEDLER: Same thing. The Republican governor has said that the Republican majority in Florida isn't going to pay. But it, again, it would cost about $4 million to do a mail-in primary and I think the Democratic National Committee will kick in a lot of that. It's certainly worth that money not to have Floridians angry in November.

HARRIS: And, Tom, one more to you. Is there anything to suggest, both of you guys I'll ask the same question, Tom, you first. Is there anything to suggest that the way the race has played out that if these primaries are ultimately held in whatever shape or form they're held in, that the delegates at stake would be decisive for either of these candidates at this point?

FIEDLER: You know, I don't really think so. I think with proportionality the way the Democrats have done this, it will just go forward by incremental steps.

HARRIS: What do you think?

SPANGLER: One suggestion I heard yesterday was that maybe they can do a winner take all in both of these states.

HARRIS: Wow. We are going to be watching this very closely. Good to see both of you. Thanks for your time this morning.

COLLINS: Congressional investigators are calling it the worst air safety violation they've ever seen. If you fly you will want to know the details. CNN's Drew Griffin is with our special investigations unit. He's been working on this story and tells us what he has found. What is the deal here? Southwest Airlines.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Troubling information for the airline Heidi that carries the most passengers in the U.S. relatively - well it is a safe airline, we should say. But according to documents obtained by CNN given to us by congressional investigators, this airline flew 117 of its planes in 2006 and part of 2007 in violation of mandatory safety checks. What's worse is that even after this discrepancy was pointed out, two FAA inspectors now given whistle-blower status under a House investigative committee say the airline was allowed to keep flies these planes, thousands and thousands of passengers on board planes that should have been taken out of service and inspected before they took one more flight. James Oberstar, he's the Minnesota congressman, also the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is outraged by this, plans on calling a hearing. Earlier this week gave us this interview about this discrepancy at both Southwest and the FAA.


REP. JAMES OBERSTAR (D) MINNESOTA: This is the most serious lapse in aviation safety at the FAA that I've seen in 23 years. It reflects an attitude of complacency at the highest levels of FAA management.


GRIFFIN: According to the documents obtained by CNN, the FAA inspectors who complained or advised their supervisors about this said that the airline was allowed to conduct a safety checks on a slower schedule because taking, quote, aircraft out of service, would have disrupted Southwest Airlines' flight schedule. Congressman Oberstar says that is in direct violation of safety standards on airlines and it may possibly be a violation of the law. He is planning to hold hearings on this. He did have an incident yesterday where he had a medical emergency. The hearing was scheduled to be next week. It might be delayed now.

COLLINS: So to clarify it, there was not anything specifically wrong with these aircraft. It's just that they missed the inspection date and these were all mandatory dates.

GRIFFIN: Right, mandatory dates that come in inspection of all 737s that were brought on because of fatal crashes, crashes involving the rudder system on two planes that crashed, one in Pittsburgh, one in Colorado Springs, the other on the Aloha Airlines 1988 incident where the whole top of the plane peeled back. Since then the rudders have to be checked and the skins or the fuselage has to be checked for cracks. Seventy planes went beyond the mandatory inspection for rudder system checks; 47 of the planes went beyond inspection limits for those peeling or tears in the fuselage. So there are clearly mandatory safety violations going on here that the airline and potentially the FAA inspectors failed to address.

COLLINS: Southwest Airlines commenting yet?

GRIFFIN: They would not comment. They told us yesterday they were preparing for the hearings and would not comment. They did tell the "Wall Street Journal" this morning that they're surprised. They thought that they self-reported this discrepancy in their reporting to the FAA and they're surprised it's coming up again.

COLLINS: We're going to have more on this tonight, right?

GRIFFIN: Absolutely.

COLLINS: Where are we going to see it?

GRIFFIN: All through the day. I'm not sure.

COLLINS: I'm trying to give you a plug here.

GRIFFIN: We've got a lot on of course. We have all the background information on the crashes that led to these mandatory checks and also, you know, Southwest safety record. They do have a few minor incidents both related to pilot error and not related to the integrity of the aircraft.

COLLINS: We will be watching for it. I know it's still developing. All right, Drew Griffin, thank you.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Heidi.

HARRIS: Boy, how about this news? A heartthrob of the 1980s today a doctor for Patrick Swayze says he's optimistic about the actor's battle against pancreatic cancer. The doctor said the disease is quote limited and Swayze is responding well to treatment. The 55-year old actor shot to fame more than two decades ago as the romantic lead in "Dirty Dancing." The film featured Swayze's first love, dancing. One Hollywood website says Swayze has two movies scheduled for release this year. And to get your daily dose of health news on, log on to our website. There you will find the latest medical news, a health library and information on diet and fitness. The address,

COLLINS: Autism and vaccines and a possible link in one child. What does it mean for your little one? Dr. Sanjay Gupta spelling it out.


COLLINS: Good morning once again everybody, 11:30 Eastern time. I'm Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: Busy morning in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Good morning everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Want to take you out to Los Angeles now, west Los Angeles. Take a look at this, don't have a lot of information on it right now, but can you imagine you're the homeowner here and this is what you're waking up to. Something tells me the earth moved here hours ago and this is the mess that you have on your hands right now, a landslide, boy, the back portion of the backyard and everything else, perhaps the deck just gone right now because of this landslide. We've been checking with our weather department. Not a lot of heavy rains recently in Los Angeles but we know over the last month or so, it's been really tough, the conditions in southern California. But those pictures just in to the CNN newsroom this morning of a landslide, west Los Angeles. No reports of injuries. We'll just keep an eye on it for you.

COLLINS: Among our top stories this morning, presidential politics. Spanks by the national parties, now Florida and Michigan want their delegates counted. CNN's John Zarrella explains.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Tallahassee, Democratic and Republican legislators are talking. Although it's just talk, it's something they agree on, Florida's vote must count. What they're talking about is moving to force the two national parties to seat all the state's delegates at their respective conventions, or else.

NAN RICH (D) FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: Legislation that would basically say that any national party that did not put -- count the delegates would not be able to put the nominee on to the ballot.

ZARRELLA: It is likely unconstitutional, legal scholars say, and a bluff. But it highlights the level of frustration in Florida, particularly among Democrats over their party's refusal to seat the delegates. Florida and Michigan were stripped of their delegates as punishment for moving up their primaries. But in the wake of Tuesday's election results in Texas and Ohio, those delegates now seem more important than ever.

MITCH CAESAR, BROWARD COUNTY DEMOCRATIC CHMN.: You can't make the numbers work intelligently unless there's a Florida and Michigan solution.

ZARRELLA: The governors of the two states, Republican Charlie Crist of Florida and Democrat Jennifer Granholm of Michigan have now joined in an appeal to their parties to seat all Florida and Michigan delegates.

But in Florida, everyone is pointing at the Democratic National Committee, saying, it's your problem to fix.

RICH: There is no way that the Democratic National -- the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, can allow this to fester anymore.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Florida is key. And the Democratic National Committee is going to have to come up with some kind of solution.

ZARRELLA: But what kind of solution? There has been talk of a re-do of the primary. That would cost $18 million and no one appears willing to pay for it.

NELSON: There's no way that the state legislature is going to fund another election in Florida when they are in economic cardiac arrest right now.

ZARRELLA: The results of the original primary are not acceptable to the Obama campaign because none of the candidates campaigned in Florida. An agreement they made with the DNC. He lost to Clinton by 17 points.

A Caucus? Florida has never held one. State party leaders say a plan must be worked out now before the Pennsylvania primary in April.

CAESAR: This is our window to put a plan into place and then maybe activate it if necessary after Pennsylvania.

ZARRELLA: If only there were a plan.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


COLLINS: Tight race for the Democratic nomination. Boy, that's for sure. Here's what you need to know about the next two turns in the course. Mississippi voters have their primary next Tuesday, March 11th. So they're 33 delegates are at stake, 12 delegates are at stake in Wyoming's caucus. That's going on this Saturday. It's been almost a half century since Wyoming played a key role in choosing the Democratic candidate. It's 15 votes back in 1960 put then Senator John F. Kennedy over the top in the delegate count.

HARRIS: Off the coast and on the look, will this massive -- whoa! -- shark land in the record books? Quite the fish story from Florida.

All right, right now we want to take you across the street here in downtown Atlanta. The family of a Georgia girl expected to speak and speaking right now about autism and vaccines at this moment. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been assisting them with this issue that we're going to be talking about today. And why we're here is because of a landmark decision has emerged from the federal vaccine court. All vaccine injury cases in the United States are administered by this court. And for the first time the court has conceded in a case that indicates that vaccines can indeed cause autism.

And the person in question here is Hanna Poling. She is here with her parents today. And at 18 months old Hanna, who for all intents and purposes and medical records was an entirely healthy child, received nine routinely administered childhood vaccines. Her health afterwards rapidly declined. She was eventually diagnosed with autism. The Poling family filed the claim in the vaccine court, and the Department of Health and Human Services has conceded the case. They're not going to fight it.

And for a variety of reasons that the Poling's lawyer, Cliff Shoemaker, will be discussing, the Poling's are finally able to come forward and discuss this. So now I'm going to turn the microphone over to the Poling's lawyer, Mr. Cliff Schumacher. Thank you.

CLIFF SHOEMAKER, ATTORNEY: Thank you all for being here today. As he said, my name is Cliff Schumacher and I'm the attorney for Hanna Poling and her family, Jon and Terry Poling, her parents. Before I introduce the Polings, let me just briefly describe the status of their case. There's been a lot of speculation on the Internet about this case, and the Polings have been under a lot of pressure to come forward and talk about their case and how it might affect the almost 5,000 other autism claims pending in the vaccine court. The Polings have not spoken before now, because I have advised them not to. Our primary concern has been and continues to be doing what is right for Hanna and we do not want anything to interfere with that.

Additionally, under the rules of the Vaccine Compensation Program, and I quote, "Information submitted to a special master or the court in a proceeding on a petition may not be disclosed to a person who is not a party to the proceeding without the expressed written consent of the person who submitted the information." The Polings are willing to waive this provision so that the respondent, which is the secretary of Health and Human Services, can make public comment about the facts of this case. In return, they have requested the secretary also waive this provision with regard to any information submitted by the respondent in this case. We're hopeful that such an agreement can be reached, but until it is or until the court enters an order allowing us to do so we cannot disclose any information submitted by the respondent.

Therefore, our comments today about this case will necessarily be focused on what is public record and on what the Polings are most particular with, and that is Hanna's story. To the extent their story is familiar to countless other parents of autistic children and to the extent that they are speaking publicly at this time, if this offers any hope or comfort to those parents, then they will be satisfied.

A petition was filed on behalf of Hanna and the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in 2002, alleging that vaccinations caused her injuries, including autism. And her case was consolidated with others in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings, or the OAP.

On September 17th, 2007, Hanna's case was designated as a potential test case for the second theory to be heard in the omnibus proceedings. And the name of her case was publicly posted on the court Web site. At that point the Polings knew their case was going to become public. Shortly before the deadline to file our expert reports in the case, the government filed a concession that made it unnecessary to go forward with any hearing on entitlement.

The case is now in what is called the damages phase, and it is expected that the appropriate amount of damages will be arrived at in due course.

What we cannot discuss today are the bases for this concession, but the Polings are willing to let the if respondent speak for itself in that regard, and hopefully we will be able to make the concession publicly available and discuss it as well.

I would like to introduce the Polings at this time. Jon Poling has a medical degree and a Phd degree from Georgetown University. He trained as a neurology resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and is a practicing neurologist in the Atlanta area. He has a special interest in treating patients with neuroimmunological diseases.

Terry Poling is a registered nurse with specialized training in critical care, as well as being an attorney with the degree from the Boston University School of Law. She has left her professional practice, but she continues to use her training in both fields as an advocate and a caregiver for Hanna Poling.

And now I'll ask Terry and Jon to introduce you to Hanna and her story. Thank you.

HARRIS: I apologize. I apologize. We clearly have lost the audio, just at the critical moment when we were going to hear from the Poling family about little Hannah, nine years old now. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay -- I believe it's back. Let's listen.


JON POLING, HANNAH'S FATHER: ... believe that the results in this case may well signify a landmark decision with children developing autism following vaccinations. This still remains to be seen, but currently there are almost 5,000 other cases pending.

As Hannah's parents our primary concern is our daughter's welfare. At the same time, we feel compelled at this time to share information to all the other families out there who are wondering what this case means to them.

TERRY POLING, HANNAH'S MOTHER: Hello. My name is Terry Poling, and I'm the mother of this absolutely gorgeous red-headed child who is 9 years old. She was born completely and perfectly healthy on December 27 of 1998.

A lot of information has been out there about how my taught daughter became ill. And I just want to confirm for all of you, I've been a nurse for 13 years. I've worked in critical care with neonates, with pediatrics, with emergency room, with recovering room. And I have two sons that are older than Hannah. So, I'm pretty secure with the development of children.

And I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I was not worried in any way about Hannah's development until July 19th of the year 2000 when she was a little over 18-months-old. She did have some respiratory infections, some ear infections. She had some eczema throughout her early childhood. Around seven months of age, she began to have ear infections non-stop. And when she was treated for antibiotics for so many months, that she became antibiotic resistant to almost all of the antibiotics. She developed thrush and yeast infections as a result of that.

But other than that, there was never any cognitive or behavioral problems whatsoever with my child. I did refuse to allow her to have her vaccines and her 12 and 15 months because she had been so ill for so many months. And thank goodness she had some reprieve and for almost six months, I actually had a child who was doing well.

On July 19th of year 2000, I came in the pediatrician's office for a well-baby check and as is customary at the pediatrician's office when they're going to give vaccines, they do a well-baby checklist where they ask you if you have any questions regarding the development. And of course, I didn't.

My daughter was absolutely precocious. She was talking, she was laughing, interacting with everyone in her environment. Her brother Nicholas, 14 months older, was her best pal and they laughed and giggled together. She pulled his hair. She pointed to objects. She pointed to colors and labeled them. She made animal noises. This child could whistle on command. You could ask her to whistle and she could whistle. It was delightful. I had absolutely no problem.

In fact, Hannah was doing so well that the Early Intervention Program in Ellicott City, Maryland asked me if I would be willing to allow her to be a peer in their Early Childhood Intervention Program for children that had disabilities and I agreed. Unfortunately, they asked me that in the spring of 2000.

After July 19th, 2000, Hannah became so ill, she immediately developed signs of encephalopathy, which actually includes -- she was screaming, she was arching her back, she developed a high fever. She was not responding to verbal stimuli, meaning when I would speak to her, she would not respond to me. She was in general less responsive. She stopped eating, she did not gain any weight, height or head circumference for several months whatsoever and she had been on the 95th and 97th growth curve. And she just dropped. She just -- she went flat. So, we knew something was wrong.

I tried to get my pediatricians to listen, but their journals also did not tell them much about autism. I know that I looked into it. I wasn't using the word autism at the time. I didn't know what had happened to my child after being given these vaccines. I knew something happened, but I didn't know what it was. And I was looking at my journals, and it said nothing about what happens to a child after taking vaccines. So, I was not surprised that the pediatricians were not telling me anything else to do.

But I started making referrals myself and I referred my child to the Early Intervention Program. And instead of being a peer that year, she was one of the multiple intensive needs children. Several months go by and my husband, who had at first thought that this condition would get better, it was a simple -- acute encephalopathy became chronic and Hannah started demonstrating several simple symptoms of classic autism, such as staring at lights, running in circles and looking at fans.

And when my husband saw this, his heart was broke. I -- he -- his whole life was going to change. He kept saying that it was going to be fine. It was going to get better. And it didn't. And I had -- I had told the early intervention team that when I came to them, I said, you know, I don't know any other word to describe them but autistic light.

But I as a nurse still didn't think she had autis because I'd never seen autism. In 13 years of nursing, I'd never seen an autistic child, not the ones I heard of in the books and read in movies. Never seen it. And so, I didn't know what to think. I started talking to them when Hannah was seeing them and I said, you know, what do you think she has, is it severe ADD, what is it? And they said, well Terry, you know what it is. You told us. And I looked at them and I said, what did I say? And they said, you told us she has autism. And I just looked at them and my heart just dropped to my feet.

It's like -- it's one thing seeing a mother saying to somebody that they're worried about something. It's another having it confirmed back at me. And from that point on, I did not know what to think. And I had to get my husband involved because I wanted to know why my daughter who had been completely normal until getting nine vaccines in one day was suddenly no longer there, no longer verbal, no longer responding.

And so at that point, I had to have him intervene because it was going to be months down the road. As many autism parents know, there's not enough neurologists out there to see our children. There's not enough people specialized to see what's going on. And it's months and months and months for some people. And we had inside access. And I feel so sorry for the parents out there who do not have that inside access because I don't know how they do it.

So in any case, in January of 2001, I had to tell my husband, who was in his residency and was chief resident and was very busy with a grant that he was doing with the partner with the FCA, that he had to intervene and he had to get my child in early. I couldn't wait. I needed to know what was wrong. And he did.

J. POLING: Like us, other parents of children suffering from autism have been waiting years for answers and help. When Hannah first slipped into the world of autism, I was in frank denial that it was even happening. In my training, autism was a rare disorder. Furthermore, regression likely did not exist, but instead was due to the parents simply not recognizing earliest signs.

With Hannah, there were no early signs. After six months of Hannah's illness in late 2000, we knew that Hannah's beautiful, inquisitive mind wasn't coming back. In order to provide the medical care and early intervention services which are so costly and our daughter would need, the choice was clear. I would leave Johns Hopkins and seek a job in practice. My wife, who had been practicing as a trial attorney, would take care of Hannah full time and these are the sacrifices we make for our children and I'm sure other parents out there are making these every day.

In addition to autism, our daughter was diagnosed with mitochondrial disorder, mitochondria, the tiny little factories present in every cellin our body. Some would say that this makes our case rare and unique, but maybe not. Preliminary estimates are that the incidents of mitochondrial disorder in the autistic population may be as high as seven percent, but then again, these data are very preliminary and some say this number could be even higher.

Mitochrondrial disorder in the general population is only at a rate of one in 5,000. Mitochrondrial disorders are still quite mysterious in that they may manifest at any age, affect any and all parts of the body or never cause any problems at all. They also may be inherited or acquired. The inherited patterns are extremely complex.

Some have asked that since Hannah was found to have a mitochrondrial DNA mutation, isn't all of this genetic and why are we here today? Unlikely, as further testing performed on Terry has shown that the same mitochondrial transition was detected in her blood and look at Terry, she's not autistic or sick.

Remember, all mitochrondria come from the mother. The DNA from mitochrondria come from the mother. There is no evidence to suggest that this difference in genetic code that Hannah had caused any disease or there was really any underlying mitochrondrial dysfunction prior to that July 2000.

This leads me to discuss the two potential theories of how Hannah's vaccination may have caused the injury. The first theory was that Hannah had an inborn genetic problem. Following vaccination, that illness produced stress, leading to permanent brain injury as manifested by autism and seizures. This susceptibility, i.e., mitochrondrial dysfunction, may never have manifested as disease if not for the vaccinations Hannah received in July 2000.

The second theory, which Mr. Shoemaker and colleagues were preparing to present, was that the preservative Thimerosal which contains mercury directly caused mitochrondrial dysfunction. There is extensive literature that Thimerosal and mercury do cause mitochrondrial dysfunction, so this is not a -- this is certainly not a leap of faith.

This mitochrondrial dysfunction resulted in brain injury as manifested by regressive encephalopathy, autism and seizures. Although both theories have merit and deserve further consideration, there is also extensive literature on the mechanism of mercury toxicity.

In summary, we are very pleased by the government's decision. It has been eight difficult and heartbreaking years since our daughter's injury. It is gratifying to finally have a court agree that her injury was caused by the vaccination she received in July 2000.

Terry and I hope that with greater awareness, we can conquer autism. We would like to see a substantial federal research initiative to study the immunological, mitochrondrial and environmental issues as they relate to autism. This is a national crisis. Together, we can pull together to create a combating autism bill with funding at the same levels that we put to put a man on the moon.

T. POLING: One other thing I just wanted to mention that I think is important is that more people need to be aware of VAERS, which is a reporting system. When you think your child has a vaccine injury, that you can communicate if your pediatrician does not communicate to the VAERS. This VAERS reporting system is not -- they don't do anything other than record incidences of autism.

It is my understanding that although Hannah came in and was diagnosed with a post-vaccine varicella reaction, which is a Chickenpox rash, with all my other complaints, they did not report this to VAERS. I didn't even know what VAERS was and I'm a nurse.

So, I did report it when I discovered what VAERS was. And I just think it's important to note that most pediatricians either don't have time or do not report to VAERS, so it isn't a really good indicator of how often vaccines might be causing harm.

The other thing, I just want to say ...

HARRIS: Listening -- you've been listening to the Poling family press conference, federal court here in Atlanta. We have spent a lot of time on this. I wanted to give you a good airing of this because this is such an important story, impacting so many families.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with us. Sanjay, this is a family that believes a preservative in childhood vaccines directly caused autism-type symptoms in their nine-year-old daughter, nine-years-old now, Hannah. And we get an important decision from the federal court set up to hear not only the claim of the Poling family, but the claims of other families, as many as -- what -- 5,000 autism claims similar to this one, and we get an important concession today from that court. Why don't you start to break this down because we've got a number of questions on this.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Dr. Poling who you were hearing to, that's Hannah's father ...


GUPTA: ...also a neurologist, sort of started off the whole thing by saying this could be a landmark case in that the court conceded, they didn't necessarily decide for sure by no means that vaccines cause autism, but they conceded in our, again, offer payment to the family to take care of Hannah.

At the heart of this is Hannah, as you mentioned, who at -- around 18-months-old got these shots. Within 48 hours, started to develop symptoms, Tony. She had high fever, the mother said she was arching her back, screaming. Prior to that, she was a perfectly normal child, again, according to her parents. Within the next several months after these shots, she was subsequently diagnosed with symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.


GUPTA: And that's sort of at the heart of all this.

Now, one thing I should say though is that they sort of offer two theories as to what happened here. One was the Thimerosal theory ...


GUPTA: you said, does Thimerosal cause autism? And it's fair to say, Tony, as you and I have talked about this, CDC, Department of Health, lots of different studies out there have said no, there is no link between Thimerosal and autism.

The other theory that he sort of put forward was this idea that Hannah had this underlying mitochrondrial problem.

HARRIS: Yes, explain that to us.

GUPTA: Basically, mitochondria are sort of like the energy houses of the cells. They provide the fuel for the cells to keep them up and running. What he was saying was that after the vaccine, did it cause some sort of reaction in the body that this mitochondrial problem, which had never caused a problem for Hannah, suddenly became a huge problem for her and caused the disease of the brain.


GUPTA: And so, those are sort of the two theories being put forward here. HARRIS: I know you're going to stay on this for us. We're so close to the top of the hour. We have a couple of other guests that we want to get on the subject.

GUPTA: Sure.

HARRIS: Great to talk to you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: No problem, your welcome, sure.

HARRIS: Thanks.

COLLINS: Well, the government says otherwise, but many people see this case as proof autism is linked to childhood vaccines. Radio host Don Imus and his wife Deidre are among those concerned about a possible cause and effect relationship. Deidre Imus is joining us now live from New York.

Thanks for being with us. I know that your Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology has really looked at a lot of health issues, Deidre, that could possibly come from environmental effects. That includes a particular interest in these possible vaccines that could cause autism. Tell us what you know and tell us what you have been hearing from people in this field.

DEIDRE IMUS, ADVOCATE FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN: Well, we've been working with thousands of parents for several years now on this issue with environmental causes of many diseases and disorders. And autism has been one at the top of our list along with cancer.

And there are numerous studies that have linked and have shown enough of a link to be concerned and to do further research on Thimerosal, the mercury preservative which is a known neurotoxin in vaccines, linking it to autism. So, this Poling family, this case is significant because it speaks for -- well like he said, 5,000 other cases.

COLLINS: Exactly.

IMUS: But thousands of other families that aren't even in the court system that have claimed the same exact thing that you just heard Mr. and Mrs. Poling describe about their child, that their child was born completely healthy, developing normally, and all of a sudden, when she went in at 18 months and got those nine vaccines, it triggered these symptoms.

And I want to make a clear distinction, because I heard Dr. Gupta talking, there is no valid distinction between autism-like symptoms and autism. And a great example is what David Kirby has been saying is, with peanut allergies, when a child dies from a peanut allergy, we don't say that child died of manifestations of some underlying condition that caused him to die ultimately from a peanut. We say, unfortunately that child died from a peanut allergy.

And so, I think there's got to be a lot more clarity here from the government because, again, this has been an ongoing issue with the government not being forthright and honest about this entire issue.

COLLINS: You know, and I do wonder, on the personal side of things. You are the person who goes out and talks with these families and hears from, you know, their personal stories about their concerns and, quite frankly, fears on all of this. What are they telling you, especially when we talk about the 5,000 pending cases?

IMUS: Well, they tell the same story. The same story that you heard from Mr. and Mrs. Poling, that their child was developing normally until their child received, in many of them, it was at the same time, at 18 months, where they got multiple vaccinations. And of course, all those vaccinations that they did get contained mercury.

COLLINS: So, if you are a parent and you are about to have a baby or you are about to consider going through the next round of vaccinations, what do you do?

IMUS: Again, I'm not anti-vaccine. I want to make that clear because again, a lot of people that speak out on this issue, they try to corner us and say we're anti-vaccine. We are not. What we're saying is, again, like everything, cleaning products or any products you use in your home, with your child, you want to do things safely.

So, when you go to your pediatrician with your baby, you want to make sure that those vaccines, that you look at the packaging, discuss it with the doctor and that they do not contain any amount of Thimerosal mercury at all.

COLLINS: Yes, and that is something that I think a lot of us tend to take for granted. We go to the doctor and we do what we're supposed to do or what we're told to do. So, certainly worth a lot more questions indeed. Deidre Imus, we certainly appreciate your time with the Deidre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology. Thanks so much.

IMUS: Thank you, Heidi.

COLLINS: CNN's "LARRY KING" will be bringing you an exclusive interview with the family of the injured child, the Poling family. Don't miss "LARRY KING LIVE." He'll be talking much more about this tonight, 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

CNN NEWSROOM continues just one hour from now.

HARRIS: And "BALLOT BOWL" is next. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: And I'm Heidi Collins. Have a good day, everybody.