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Sanjay Gupta MD

Race and Health

Aired February 24, 2007 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news. Some tense moments in northern Texas. You can see why. The National Weather Service getting reports of two twisters right there. You see the funnel cloud in the middle of the screen. Even more high wind advisories are in place right now.
Well, let's see where the weather is going today. Reynolds Wolf is in the CNN Severe Weather Center. It's named after a very good reason. You've been watching a lot of that lately, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, I'm telling you. It's going to be a crazy day for us. We're talking about snow, the possibility of strong thunderstorms, maybe even some tornados.

Let's deal with snowfall first. And it looks like we're going to be seeing some heavy snow, possibly up to a foot between now and Monday morning for places like Minneapolis, St. Paul, as well as a few spots like Rochester.

Meanwhile, farther back out to the west in Denver, Colorado, Denver is probably going to miss that on the heaviest snowfall, especially the ski resorts farther out to the west. This storm system, as it moves its way from west to east.

And it looks like one spot that could be under the gun very soon would be St. Louis. Going to see some heavy storms there, as we continue through the afternoon and evening hours. Let's send it back to you, Betty.

NGUYEN: All right, thank you, Reynolds.

WOLF: You bet.

NGUYEN: And your next check of the headlines, coming up at the top of the hour. But first, HOUSECALL with Dr. Sanjay Gupta starts right now.

SANJAY GUPTA: Good morning, welcome to a special edition of HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Today, we're looking at how your race affects your health. We're here in the seat of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King lived here and he preached here. The question really is, though, when it comes to your health, how close to the dream have we really come?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA (voice-over): There's something in the eyes of a woman with breast cancer. Harlem surgeon Harold Freeman knows the look. Early on, half the women who came to him were in late stages of the disease. Incurable.

HAROLD FREEMAN, DR., RALPH LAUREN CENTER: It was very devastating for me to come to Harlem and see people presenting for the first visit sometimes with a breast that was replaced by cancer. And you couldn't see the breast at all.

GUPTA: Freeman set out to disentangle race and poverty and cancer, to understand why black women are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, but twice as likely to die from it.

As research found, poverty is the real problem, the lack of access, education, and resources.

FREEMAN: It is not acceptable that people that are poor should die because they're poor.

GUPTA: Freeman was just 13 when his own father died of testicular cancer, leaving his mother to raise three kids alone.

FREEMAN: I lost my father to this devastating disease at a point where I really needed to have a father. I hated cancer, because it had killed my father.

GUPTA: The great, great grandson of a slave, who bought his own freedom, Freeman. The surgeon's desire to beat the cancer propelled Dr. Freeman to become president of the American Cancer Society and chairman of the United States President's Cancer Panel.

Then in 2000, a turning point. Targeting breast cancer was in vogue as Ralph Lauren launched his pink pony campaign, and Freeman had found himself an ally to build a cancer center in Harlem.

FREEMAN: People who were dying at a high rate because they were poor and black. He asked me, well, what are the solutions? Mr. Lauren stood up, dressed immaculately, of course. And he simply said, Dr. Freeman, I will help you.

GUPTA: Jerona Smith is a single mom who now comes to the Ralph Lauren Cancer Center for care. Since being diagnosed with aggressive Stage 1 breast cancer at age 29, it's been one shock after another. First losing her job, then her health insurance.

JERONA SMITH, BREAST CANCER PATIENT: It's a lot to bear. I'm not working at this point in time because of chemotherapy. And it's a bit hard, but I got the help here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We gathered all the documentation for Medicaid.

GUPTA: And that's one of Dr. Freeman's other innovations, the Patient Navigation Program. Conceived in 1990 and signed into law last year, the federally funded program awarded about $25 million in grants. Navigators are familiar with the healthcare system and help women with everything from insurance to medications, makeup and wigs, giving them access to a system that might otherwise ignore them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Patients actually come here, and they're faced with so many barriers. Our job as navigators is to assist them. We always find a way.

FREEMAN: The five-year survival rate in breast cancer at Harlem hospital, which was initially 39 percent before navigation and screening, is now in the range of 70 percent.

GUPTA: Jerona knows the chemo and radiation ahead will tax her energy. But the fact is she and women like her now have a better chance at beating breast cancer.


GUPTA: Reverend Martin Luther King once said, of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane. Some of that inequality may be fueled from the black community itself, concerns about experimentation and intolerance.

And now Elizabeth Cohen is here to explain how some of that fear may be leading to needless deaths.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These cancer patients are waiting, waiting for bone marrow transplants, a procedure that could save their lives. They will most likely wait longer for matching donors than white people. Is the American healthcare system racist? Actually, the reason is something that doesn't get talked about a lot.

African-American donation rates are low.

JESSICA PASLEY, MOTHER: Low, low, low. It makes me angry, frustrated, and actually sad because I think I take it personally.

COHEN: African-Americans usually need an African-American to donate bone marrow for genetic reasons, but there's a shortage of black donors.

Bone marrow is the soft material at the center of the bone. It's where blood cells are made. A transplant replaces a patient's diseased marrow with a donor's healthy marrow when people have diseases like leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and breast cancer.

Jessica Pasley and her husband had to search for bone marrow for their identical twin daughters, Jillian and Jade. Both had leukemia.

PASLEY: We went to black churches. We sought the help of black health organizations.

COHEN: And did they come through?

PASLEY: No, not really.

COHEN: Jessica says they do a drive at a black church and register about 100 people, while a drive at a nearby white church would find get 1,500 people. The Pasleys did finally find a match for Jillian, who's now in remission. But by the time they found a match for Jade, it was too late. She died when she was 2.

Do you feel that your own community has let you down?

PASLEY: I feel that my own community is letting itself down. I might be overstepping my bounds here, but I feel like are we killing ourselves with not helping each other?

GUPTA: Do you think you are?

PASLEY: Ask all the people whose loved ones have died, because there was nobody there to help them.

COHEN: Jessica wondered why donor rates are so low. Her grandmother told her, Tuskegee. From 1932 to 1972, doctors in Alabama purposely withheld treatment from black men with syphilis. And black mistrust in the medical system still exists today.

Harriet Washington is author of the book "Medical Apartheid." She sees another reason. Black people overall don't get as good medical care as whites.

HARRIET WASHINGTON, AUTHOR, "MEDICAL APARTHEID": The resentment and distrust that it fosters drives a wedge between African-Americans in all kinds of interaction with the healthcare system.

PASLEY: Did he even try to explain this to you guys?


COHEN: Whatever the reason, Jessica says it's time for African- Americans to step up to the plate and volunteer to donate bone marrow.

PASLEY: There's got to be a time where you say move forward, move on to help your own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: the part with the math and the squares and stuff?


COHEN: Since our story originally aired on "Paula Zahn Now," more than 1,300 people have inquired about getting on the National Marrow Donor Program Registry.

According to the group, a number of them have already completed the initial testing and are ready to go if they match someone who's in need of a bone marrow transplant.

The need is great. So if you're interested in getting on the registry, go to and learn more. Also as you can tell, Sanjay, it's obvious that Jessica Pasley is passionate about getting more minorities on the registry. We were so impressed by her vision, we asked her to blog about her experience and her challenge to others in her community. Jessica's powerful call to action is at Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: Thanks, Elizabeth. And after you read her blog, you can also click on to CNN's special "Road to Equality" page. There you're going to learn more about Elizabeth's story plus, read about notable scientists through history and file your own report on health equality in America.

And when HOUSECALL returns, we're going to church.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For whatever reason, it's so volatile. And it tends to bring out such bitterness and venom.


GUPTA: Find out what health issue is separating black churches from some of the constituents who need them most.

Plus, what is a shave and a cut have to do with good health? Find out when HOUSECALL continues, looking at your race, your risk.


TIME STAMP: 0842:40

GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. Churches offer refuge, guidance, healing. But as the HIV-AIDS epidemic continues to ravage parts of the African-American community, some say houses of worship have been too slow to respond.


CHRISTINE WILEY, REV., COVENANT BAPTIST CHURCH: Let's look at Ecclesiastes, chapter 3.

GUPTA (voice-over): Here in Washington D.C., where the AIDS rate is one of the highest in the country, Reverend Christine Wiley is an anomaly. She holds bible study once a week for people with HIV.

At Covenant Baptist Church, where she is a co-pastor with her husband reverend Dennis Wiley, they have had an AIDS ministry for 21 years. They are putting a face on HIV, providing weekly free testing, and educating their congregation and community about the disease. They say it's not been easy nor without risks because of the stigma black churches have placed on AIDS and those with the disease.

DENNIS WILEY, REV., COVENANT BAPTIST CHURCH: HIV and AIDS is associated with conduct or behavior that is considered to be "sinful" by the church. GUPTA: That conduct, homosexuality. The Wileys say most black churches are very conservative and traditional. And because most consider homosexuality a sin, many pastors don't want to address it.

D. WILEY: This issue, for whatever reason, is so volatile. And it tends to bring out such bitterness and venom.

C. WILEY: They're a perpetrator of, you know, of the stigma by both not addressing it and by both -- and also addressing it in ways that are not helpful but harmful.

GUPTA: In fact, infection rates are much higher for African- Americans than any other group. Blacks make up only 13 percent of the population, but account for half of all new infections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: AIDS is increasingly becoming a black disease in the United States.

GUPTA: According to the Centers for Disease Control, it's the leading cause of death for African-Americans, especially for women age 25 to 34. Black children are diagnosed four times as much as white or Hispanic children. Still, the place one would often turn for spiritual sustenance and healing has problems providing that for some.

C. WILEY: It's affecting our entire community. So we cannot afford to have our heads in the sand.

D. WILEY: People are suffering. People are dying. People need help. And I believe that that's -- Jesus Christ would respond to that need, but I think the black church in some ways has gotten off track.

GUPTA: The Wileys say churches will not have any impact on HIV in the black community until they come together collectively to address the disease. And it's up to pastors to lead the way.


GUPTA: Blacks, more than any other ethnic group, are being disproportionately affected. HIV seems to affect every segment of this population. And the stigma associated with the disease only adds to the problem.

Let's head back to the studio now with Judy Fortin and this week's medical headlines.

JUDY FORTIN: Thanks, Sanjay.

We start with news about a popular cosmetic treatment. Research finds the wrinkle filler Restylane increases the amount of collagen the skin produces. Collagen naturally restores the skin's elasticity. The finding suggests there may be long term benefits from this cosmetic procedure.

The digital age may be fattening for America's teens. A new study shows between middle school and high school, students spend on average four hours more per week on the computer, while vigorous physical activity declined, a major concern since reduced physical activity is linked to increases obesity.

And Sanjay, you may want to take a lesson from those teens. New research finds that surgeons who play video games have better motor skills. Study authors say surgeons who game for more than three hours per week make fewer errors, work faster, and perform 42 percent better.

So Sanjay, in your spare time, maybe video games are a good option. Back to you.

GUPTA: Video games, huh? I actually play them all the time. Thanks, Judy, for that report.

And of course, you can get the latest medical news each week on HOUSECALL. But for a midweek fix, check out i-Tunes. Wednesday evenings, my newest podcast is downloadable. And this week, I'm talking about beating back the winter blahs.

Now stay where you are. Coming up, if you won't see your doctor, Sally will come see you. What communities are doing to measure risk before it's too late.

Plus regular checkups, going to the doctor when you're sick. Do you need to do both? New research ahead on HOUSECALL.


TIME STAMP: 0840:12

GUPTA: We're back with a very special edition of HOUSECALL.

I'm in a place where a lot of men, especially African-American men, don't end up coming to. It's an exam room. The reasons are numerous, but the outcome is the same. Black men are more likely to die than white men of a whole list of diseases.

Judy Fortin now with one community's fight to try and change that.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sweet Auburn. Martin Luther King grew up here. It's the heart of Atlanta's African- American community, and now home to another kind of movement.

GERALD DEVAUGHN, DR., BLACK CARDIOLOGISTS ASSN.: One of our big problems is delay and denial.

FORTIN: Denial about the facts. While blacks are less likely than whites to be diagnosed with heart disease, they're more likely to die from it. Now some areas of the country are taking notice.

STEVEN KATKOWSKY, DR., FULTON CO., HEALTH DEPT.: And what we're finding in going out into the community and doing screening and so on is is we're finding a tremendous number of people that have hypertension. Well, then the question is so what do you do about it? FORTIN: Trained volunteers, like Sally Fuller, are working on the answer.

SALLY FULLER: When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?

FORTIN: Fuller and other volunteers visit some of the most popular place in this Atlanta neighborhood, barber shops and hair salons, warning about the dangers of high blood pressure and encouraging treatment before it's too late.

DEVAUGHN: If you get the healthcare late, the outcomes will not be as good. In the African-American community, that's a big problem that we get there late. And so sometimes when we see patients, their disease is far advanced.

FORTIN: Government figures are eye opening. African-American adults are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites and 10 percent less likely to have the condition under control.

DEVAUGHN: It's extremely hard to get the word out. And you know, particularly for African-American men, they're involved doing a number of things. They feel well. So they're not compelled to go to the doctor's office, but they do come to the barber shops.

FORTIN: So along with a cut or a shave, customers at this barber shop are getting some free medical advice and maybe a friendly warning from Sally.

OK, so you just continue to take that medicine when you're supposed to take that medicine.

FORTIN: Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: Judy, thanks.

And you'll find this interesting. New research points out that going to the doctor before you get sick makes a difference. If you're going for regular exams, you're generally going to be less worried when you go in for your regular check-up.

Also, you're more likely to get important preventative services or screenings during an annual exam than if they just go into treat specific problems. So that regular check-up is worth the visit. Go see your doctor.

And here's a question. What do 100 black men and fighting obesity have in common? Leaders, like this former surgeon general, they're fighting to keep men and boys from following in some tragic footsteps.

GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL.

Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the African-American community. Its leaders are dying young, too young, of weight related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. And sadly, African- American children are continuing the legacy. They're now twice as likely to be obese as white children.

Here in Atlanta, the civic organization 100 Black Men is becoming a role model for promoting good health.

JOHN GRANT, 100 BLACK MEN OF ATLANTA: To really sell in and market.

GUPTA: John Grant is a man in motion.

GRANT: I walk at a very fast pace. I often have people telling me who are with me, will you slow down?

GUPTA: As CEO of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Grant teamed up with former Surgeon General David Satcher and the Morehouse School of Medicine, to create a health program.

GRANT: I'm much more conscious of the fact that one can walk 10,000 steps a day, how much it can lower your incidence of diabetes.

GUPTA: Sixty percent of African-American men are overweight. 41 percent have cardiovascular disease. In addition, black men are twice as likely as white men to have diabetes or die of cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started with these men. It would be an investment in their health and in the health of their community.

GUPTA: Initial health screenings found many undiagnosed problems, such as prostate cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Each participant was encouraged to increase their physical activity to 10,000 steps a day and eat at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Those simple changes lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels over the first two years of the program. And now the group is reaching out to young people in its scholarship program.

WILLIAM ALEXANDER, DR., MOREHOUSE SCHOOL OF MED.: We believe very strongly that if we can help our students improve their health, then they'll improve their academic performance.

Walter Burson is a sophomore at Tuskegee University, who is overweight and at risk. He's lost 15 pounds since starting the health challenge.

WALTER BURSON, STUDENT: I want to be healthy. And I want to live a long life. And now is the time to start.

ALEXANDER: This is the black men playing their role, taking their responsibility in the home and ultimately in the community. That's what this is about.

GUPTA: And 100 Black Men of Atlanta is taking their health challenge nationwide, encouraging groups all across the country to take their health to heart.

For more information on 100 Black Men and what they're trying to accomplish, just click over to my blog at Just click on the upper right blog icon and blog your thoughts.

More HOUSECALL after the break, as we continue to look at your race, your risk.


TIME STAMP: 0859:30

GUPTA: For health information 24/7, just click on You'll find the latest news, a medical library, and access to my weekly podcast. Now if you missed any part of today's show, go to to find a link there to free transcripts.

Unfortunately, we're out of time for this morning. Make sure to tune into HOUSECALL every weekend for the latest news about your health. Also, continue to watch CNN as we uncover what impacts the many faces of America. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.