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Sanjay Gupta MD

Youth Concussion Crisis; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Pledges to Help Eradicate Polio; The 2011 Fit Nation Triathlon Team

Aired February 05, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to the program.

First up -- well, this week, the nation's eyes turn to the Super Bowl. No surprise there. We're going to turn our attention as well to youth football, where the intensity is just like the pros in many ways, but the injuries can be even more intense. We've been looking for ways for some time to keep kids safe during the sport. We think we may have found a program that works.

Also, my candid talk with this man, Bill Gates. He's literally giving away $10 billion, with a B, to vaccinate children around the world and also to wipe out polio. Now, he takes on the skeptics.

Plus, you're going to meet some new incredible people who are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime alongside me. It's our 2011 Fit Nation triathlon challenge. It just started and they got a -- they got an amazing six-month transformation and you're going to hear from some of them today. It's going to inspire you like it did me.

Let's get started.


GUPTA: Well, the Super Bowl is on almost everyone's mind, including mine. But did you know that for every NFL player, there are more than 1,700 kids age 6 to 14 also are playing football.

And while getting pummeled at any level is bad, the truth is, in the youth game, it's worse. It's worse because their brains are still developing. It makes them especially vulnerable to a concussion.

Even the numbers among kids are worse. Although there are more than 100 concussions suffered at the NFL level every season, more than 100,000 kids and teens are seen in the emergency room for sports related concussions.

Concussions among our kids is an urgent problem. But we think that we found one program that has a solution.


GUPTA (voice-over): Most of these players see themselves as mini-versions of these guys.

CHRIS NOWINSKI, PRES., SPORTS LEGACY INSTITUTE: Youth football is trying to be the professional game -- sometimes for good, but sometimes for bad.

GUPTA: The good? Competition. Camaraderie.

The bad? Concussions and the ugly, a tendency trickling from the pros to hide head injuries.

NOWINSKI: When you are 13, you have the same drives to play through pain, play through injury. You don't want to look weak in front of your friends or weak in front of your enemies. Guys went great lengths to hide injuries, or not talk about them.

GUPTA: It turns out hiding has consequences -- first seen at the NFL level. Retired players consumed with depression, rage, memory problems. Their symptoms associated with the mysterious brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It looks like dementia, but it strikes players in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, sometimes younger.

NOWINSKI: The reality is, we have cases of teenagers having the disease, were primary football players. Some play multi-sports, but they all had brain trauma.

CARMEN RODA, PRES., WESTPORT POLICE ATHLETIC LEAGUE: Well, it's brain damage. I mean, that's what comes out of it. How can you want that for any child?

Does your head go up or down?


RODA: Head go up or down?


GUPTA: Carmen Roda coaches, the Wreckers, it's a team of fifth graders in Westport, Connecticut. Last year, he had a typical playbook.

RODA: We do drills like bull in a ring, you know, one kid in the middle. We walk around and tap a kid, and then you just go at it, head-to-head, hammer to hammer.

GUPTA: And during games?

RODA: The kid came out and he got a hard hit, what we used to call a stinger or ding, you know, we should sit and say, hey, are you OK? And then send him back in if he answered yes.

GUPTA: When his team clocked 20 concussions in one season, Coach Roda said enough. His new playbook starts with a concussion course for coaches, parents, and players -- a trainer at games and practice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nausea or dizziness?


GUPTA: And far less hitting in practice, in emphasis on technique, not through force.

RODA: This is what we don't want to see. OK? The spine is lined up. The head is down.

There's been sometimes that I've had the kids take off their helmets and work on technique. Because the brain is smart, right? As soon as they see it's going to get hurt, and the head snaps back automatically.

GUPTA: The impact? The Wreckers cut the concussions in half and still made the playoffs.

NOWINSKI: It did not hurt the kid's ability to play the game. It just dramatically lowered their injury rate and their head trauma rate. And so when you look at how simple those things were made in one season, in one program, you wonder why isn't everybody else doing this?


GUPTA: You know, I think the thing that's going to make a difference is a true culture change. People really are going to have to pay attention to this. This is one program that can be beneficial. But the question is: will other programs or the schools start making a difference as well?

You know, we got other medical stories as well making some headlines this week, especially this one. A federal judge in Florida said the new health care bill is unconstitutional. Now, if you keep in tabs -- that makes two ruling against the law in two for it.

This was the biggest case, 26 states actually signed on to have the law overturned. And most people agree, this is going to all be headed for the Supreme Court for a big showdown. We're going to keep on top of it. We're committed to this, bringing you the updates right here on SGMD.

We also got an update on toxic America. The Environmental Protection Agency said, this week, is going to set a limit on the toxic chemical that we've been keeping an eye on right here on SGMD. It's called perchlorate. It's turning up in drinking water all over the country. It comes from rocket fuel.

And amazingly, all the people that were tested for this chemical tested positive -- 100 percent of people did. Perchlorate is a chemical. It disrupts the thyroid gland and it's especially dangerous for pregnant women and developing babies.

Now, two states, California and Massachusetts, already set limits on perchlorate in drinking water. But the federal government said it will take at least two more years to set limits for the entire country.

So, I got to sit down exclusively with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. I got a chance to ask her, why, since there are two dozen studies already showing that this chemical was dangerous, why is the EPA not moving any faster?


LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: We owe it to the American people to ensure we go through all the regulatory steps here. It's not just science. It's to make sure that the standard will hold up. It's the first time we've ever regulated a chemical not because of what it does directly to you, but because it has an impact on iodide uptake that might affect your child down the road.

It's very complicated science. My answer to mothers out there is: yes, the federal science moves slower than all of us would like. But it's very, very good science.


GUPTA: Administrator Jackson there actually testifying for the Senate Subcommittee this week. A lot of people paying attention to this as we will as well. Perchlorate, that's the name that you need to remember.

Now, he's called it the decade of vaccines and spent over $10 billion to make them available around the world. We're going to talk about. We're also going to ask what philanthropist Bill Gates thinks about this whole autism vaccine debate.


BILL GATES, PHILANTHROPIST: It's an absolute lie that it's killed thousands of kids because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn't have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccines and their children are dead today.



GUPTA: Welcome back to SGMD.

In my dispatch from Davos, Switzerland -- you know, each year, this remote town is home to a remarkable get together, leaders in business, technology, politics and philanthropy. I was there last week, so was Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Now, you may know this: he's pledged billions of his own dollars to vaccinate children around the world. He also wants to wipe out polio everywhere. He thinks he can do that by the end of next year.

Now, in this country, many parents, as you may know, are skeptical about vaccines overall. But Gates was very forthright about this. He says that skepticism is a killer.


GUPTA: Ten billion dollars over the next 10 years to make it the year of vaccines. What does that mean, exactly?

GATES: Well, over this decade, we believe unbelievable progress can be made both in inventing new vaccines and making sure they get out to all the children who need them. We can cut the number of children who die every day from about 9 million to half of that, if we have success on it. And the benefits there in terms of reducing sickness, reducing the population growth, it really allows society a chance to take care of itself once you've made that intervention.

GUPTA: There's been a lot of scrutiny of vaccines recently, specifically childhood vaccines. There's been a lot of news about: is there a connection with autism for example? What do you make of all that?

Dr. Wakefield wrote a paper about this saying that he thought there was a connection. And people -- there was lower vaccination rates as a result for a period of time in Britain and the United States. What are your thoughts?

GATES: Well, Dr. Wakefield has been shown to use absolutely fraudulent data. He had a financial interest in some lawsuits. He created a fake paper. The journal allowed it to run.

All other studies were done showed no connection whatsoever again and again and again. And so, it's an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn't have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccine and their children are dead today. And so, you know, the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts, you know, they killed children. It's a very sad thing because these vaccines are important.

GUPTA: Developing the vaccine, the scientific research that goes into that, obviously is one thing, and distributing things, even after they have been created. Someone said to me once that even if the cure for HIV/AIDS came in a clean glass of water, we still wouldn't get rid of AIDS in the world because of actually distributing some of these things. How do -- how do you address the challenge like that no matter the money?

GATES: Well, there are fantastic ways of getting vaccines out. It's a system that's been built up over the years. In the case of smallpox, they just use the vaccine and they eradicated the disease all the way back in 1979.

We cover about 75 percent of the world's children with the vaccines. All you're doing is gathering women to the villages, getting them to vaccine and asking them to go around and find the children. And then you pay other people or independent to come in, look at the children, survey, see what the coverage rate is.

You also have clear indicators. Measles is -- will always show you, if somebody is not doing a good job on vaccinations, kids will start dying of measles. And so, we know, when we spend the money, that the group we've asked to do that vaccination, they've delivered.

GUPTA: You talked about smallpox sort of being a model on terms of proof of principle that it can be done. D.A. Henderson, Donald Henderson, who, you know, was with the World Health Center at the time this was done, has said look, when you talk about polio, is this more of a movement rather than a public health initiative using objective evidence. And I think what he was saying is that should this be more about annual immunizations rather than sort of trying to find this moment in time?

GATES: Well, when you talk to mother's whose children are paralyzed, I think no matter what you label it, it should be about getting rid of this evil disease. I don't think there's any philosophy that suggests having polio is a good thing.

The world is careful to pick very diseases for eradication because it is very tough. After smallpox got finished, the lesson from that was the miracle of vaccines, not that we should immediately take on other diseases.

GUPTA: You've talked about Afghanistan and Pakistan and the polio vaccine. And you said that doing this, the vaccination campaign can help stabilize a war-torn region like this.

GATES: What you're seeing is that the density in the poor areas is greater than they can grow the food, greater than they can educate, greater than provide the jobs. So, you create this hot spot of instability. So, even if all they care about is national security, these health things are very cheap way to make sure you're not going to have turmoil that eventually would affect the whole world.

GUPTA: Is there a diplomatic part of this? I mean, the fact that your foundation, other organization and partnerships are doing this. Is there -- is that part of it?

GATES: The general idea of the rich helping the poor I think is important. Your sense of justice says why should rich kids who barely get these diseases and almost never die of them, why should they get the vaccines where poor kids who actually do die of these diseases don't get those things? It's an unbelievable inequity that there isn't that access. And it's been 15 years usually between when rich kids get vaccines and poor kids do.

GUPTA: There was an article about, you know, concerns about corruption and fraud with regard to the Global Fund. Do you expect just to have a certain amount of corruption and fraud to say, you know what? To do the work that we do, we have to expect and accept a certain amount of that?

GATES: Well, the Global Fund does a fantastic job. They've seen typically about 3 percent or 4 percent of the money they spend not be applied properly. So, yes, you're going to have some. But it's fine.

This is saving lives for well less than 1 percent of what you would spend in the rich world. And if you think lives are created equal, this says that, well, are they at least worth at least 1 percent? You know, by and large, it's the one health intervention that can get to everyone.

Unfortunately, even though it's a few percent of the cost of most health things, over half the lives saved by medicine come from vaccination. In fact, it's so simple people often forget what a big deal this is. You know, the 2 million of people who would be dying of smallpox now, they don't, you know, think, wow, I'm alive because of vaccination. But that's the case.


GUPTA: And I can tell you, Mr. Gates was there with his wife, Melinda, as well. They've been traveling around the world, talking about this very topic, also partnering with a lot of local governments to try and eradicate polio. It's amazing, that work. And we're certainly going to keep tabs on that.

But now we have a world class pianist with what could be a career-ending condition and to overcome arthritis in his hands. Imagine how painful that must be. Well, what's his secret? And also ask this question: just how powerful can the mind be in these situations? That's next.


GUPTA: Welcome back to SGMD.

Today, we wanted to introduce you to some ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I want you to meet a concert pianist who's battling a disease that affects 50 million people in the United States alone. It's arthritis. It could have ended Byron Janis' career, but he played through the pain. How?

Here's the story.


GUPTA (voice-over): Byron Janis has a rare gift.

He has played the classics, from Chopin to Rachmaninoff , to crowds at Carnegie Hall and for U.S. presidents.

Yet, for most of his career, he's been tormented by wrenching pain.

BYRO JANIS, PIANIST: It started with a little patch of red on this finger inside. But it was very painful.

GUPTA: It was 1973, the height of his career, Janis was diagnosed with crippling arthritis.

JANIS: At first, I just ignored it. And then I couldn't ignore it, but I ignored the idea I was having impairment.

GUPTA: Simply not thinking about the pain is what Janis says enabled him to continue playing to overcome his pain.

JANIS: I learned about the power of the mind, and I said, no. I'm going to keep playing the piano.

GUPTA: But continuing had consequences.

JANIS: This thumb was operated on and shortened. And then I had five more operations on my hand.

GUPTA: Janis hid his condition, but eventually, it became too much to bear. At a White House event in 1994, Janis finally revealed everything.

JANIS: The disease is still with me. I have it, but it does not have me.

GUPTA: The moment was at first cathartic, but then Janis became depressed. For a year, he refused to play.

Janis' wife whose father is the actor Gary Cooper asked him to compose a piece for a documentary about her father. It was that piece that brought him back.

JANIS: And I went back to playing. I can still play and this is what I wanted to show people, that I have been playing for this all my life.


GUPTA: Now, Byron Janis is now 82 years old and still in pain from arthritis but he also continues to play the piano, just incredible music.

Now, I'm going to compete in another triathlon this summer -- a big decision for me. And for the training, it always helps to have teammates. A lot of people know this. I'm going to introduce you to my new friends.

That's coming up next on SGMD.


GUPTA: We are back with SGMD.

We've got something very special to roll out, I think, our 2011 CNN triathlon challenge. Now, I'll tell you, last summer, I accomplished something I never thought I would do. After about six months of training off and on, and three hours of swimming, biking and running on one particular day, I crossed the finish line at the Nautica New York City triathlon. At my side, six of our viewers -- six of you -- who traveled with me and a CNN team.

Well, this year, with picked six more viewers to join us. And today, we get to introduce you to the first three: Kendrick Henley, Stasia Cirricione is here and Dr. Scott Zahn. They submitted their video entries via iReport. Take a listen.


KENDRICK HENLEY, FIT NATION ATHLETE: After years of gaining and losing weight, mainly gaining, I realized it was time for me to make a commitment.

STASIA CIRRICIONE, FIT NATION ATHLETE: I'm just a Midwestern girl that was raised on sugar and fried foods and pop. And I'm really looking forward to doing something that my body's never done before.

DR. SCOTT ZAHN, FIT NATION ATHLETE: Recently, I saw my primary care physician for the first time in very many years. I have high blood pressure. I have too many of the bad lipids and not enough of the good lipids. And I left that visit on three new medications.


GUPTA: Welcome to SGMD. Congratulations for being part of the team.

You know, let me start with you. I decided to do this last year. I'd never done a triathlon before, and no joke. At the end of it, I was transformed in so many ways -- physically, mentally, spiritually. I mean, I was just a different person.

What are your goals for this and what is the biggest hurdle you think you're going to have to overcome?

HENLEY: I think one of my major goals is weight loss. But bigger than that is really making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. You know, making sure I eat properly and consistently exercise.

I think my biggest goal is just really being consistent with the training and nutrition piece, because that seems to be the areas I've had the most issues within the past and try to, you know, exercise and lose weight and stuff. So --

GUPTA: Yes, and we always make a distinction between fitness and health versus just weight loss because -- I mean, that's I think what's so important about this triathlon is that you become a healthier person.

And, you know, Stasia, for you, we saw your video. You called yourself a meat and potatoes kind of gal. So, what inspired to you do this? And six months from now, in August, what do you expect to be in your life? What do you expect to be like?

CIRRICIONE: Well, about a year ago, I started just switching my diet altogether to become healthier. I reached a point in my weight that I never thought I'd be at. And I'm down about 40 pounds now and I want to keep going. And basically, I did this as the next step in my fitness and my healthy lifestyle.

And in six months, I hope to be a competing (ph) person to cross that New York City triathlon finish line.

GUPTA: There's no question you will be. I can almost guarantee you, you will come right across and we'll be right there with you.

Doctor, you know, doctors practice what they preach, typically. It's not always though. You got a scare. I mean, you went to your doctor and were given something that inspired you to change. What happened?

ZAHN: Sure. I finally went to get a checkup for the first time in years. And I had high blood pressure, my cholesterols were bad. I got started on three medications and I knew it was time to do something different. But I hadn't really led a healthy lifestyle up to that point, but I -- this was now, like, OK, now, it's time to make a change.

GUPTA: Thanks so much. Congratulations, and I can't wait to start working out with you guys.

CIRRICIONE: Thank you.

HENLEY: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you.

GUPTA: And you at home as well. You can follow their journeys right here on SGMD. It's a big part of this. You can follow us on a blog as well called "The Chart."

Make sure to tune in next week, we're going to meet the other half of our next six pack, including a woman who says 58 is the new 28. I like that.

Thanks for watching everybody. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.