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Paula Zahn Now
Diploma Mills Represent Security Threat to United States?; Iraq Votes; Living in Constant Hunger
Aired December 15, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, what could be a first step for potential terrorists bent on carrying out yet another attack on the U.S., and all they need is a computer and a little bit of cash.
ZAHN (voice-over): On the CNN "Security Watch," diploma mills, churning out advanced degrees for a few hundred dollars -- no study needed, no questions asked, an alarming gap in the nation's security. We will follow the fake diplomas. You will be surprised where they end up.
Tonight's "Eye Opener," the never-ending hunger.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
ZAHN: Thousands of people desperate to do anything for more food.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her tantrums and her -- became really strong and violent, that I wasn't able to handle her. She was stealing from even the trash.
ZAHN: Can people ever learn to cope with this mystery of the human mind?
And amazing rescues -- incredible video of real-life heroes, saving a baby, saving a dog, moments to remind us that miracles sometimes do happen.
ZAHN: And we start on the "Security Watch" tonight and the warning from Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff that the battle against terrorists will be crippled if Congress doesn't renew the Patriot Act before going home for the holidays.
The House has passed the bill. The Senate is still considering it. But, while that debate rages on in Washington right now, there happens to be a loophole the Patriot Act would do nothing to fix. It is an alarming security gap that virtually puts out the welcome mat for potential terrorists, and all it takes is a credit card and a few clicks of a computer mouse. Here's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Abu Salsabil Hassan Omar's Master of Science degree in chemistry from Rochville University.
Who is Omar? The federal government says he's an explosives and chemical weapons expert for the terrorist group al Qaeda. So how did this alleged terrorist with a five million dollar bounty on his head earn a Masters in Chemistry from this American university?
Well, we earned it for him with $500 and an Internet connection. And the United States district attorney in Spokane, Washington, says there could be thousands of potential terrorists who have done what we just did.
JIM MCDEVITT, U.S. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT, WASHINGTON STATE: This is a concern to us because this is one -- not the only one, but one of many kinds of documents or kinds of things that you can use to, you know, gain credibility, build your -- build up your portfolio, and maybe gain access into the country.
GRIFFIN: This past October, McDevitt and federal agents broke up what they allege could be one of the largest diploma mills in the country. They say a couple living in this home outside Spokane, Washington, ran the operation, which awarded thousands of fake degrees from legitimate sounding schools, Saint Regis University, James Monroe University, and several others.
The diplomas, like the one we bought Abu Salsabil Hassan Omar, all look real, some coming with full transcripts and certificates of accreditation from what looks like a government agency.
According to the U.S. attorney, anyone could log on and buy what appears to be an advanced degree. It sounded like just another scam, until McDevitt found out that almost half the bogus degrees were being purchased overseas, and mostly from so-called students in Saudi Arabia.
MCDEVITT: Terrorists, and let's say al Qaeda, who has proven themselves to be very, very patient, very, very intelligent, and are willing to go to great lengths to -- to gain entry or to do harm to the country.
GRIFFIN: There is no evidence a bogus diploma has been used by a potential terrorist to gain access to this country, but McDevitt fears it is possible.
H-1B visas can be issued to anyone who is highly skilled and can get a job in the U.S. McDevitt is concerned a phony advanced degree could be the first step for someone in a terrorist sleeper cell.
And to prove just how troublesome the problem is, Secret Service agents did what we did, bought their own degree for a perfect terrorist candidate, although theirs was fictional.
Mohammed Syed was the applicant, no formal education but years of chemical training and chemical engineering with the Syrian army. The Secret Service even added to Syed's application that he needed a degree quickly, so he could find employment and obtain an H-1B visa, allowing him to stay in the U.S.
In less than a month, the imaginary Syrian army expert was notified, James Monroe University was awarding him three advanced degrees in engineering and chemistry, all for $1,277.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What is surprising is just how this potential hole in homeland security was discovered. It turns out, the fake universities selling fake degrees were done in by a real physics professor from the fully-accredited University of Illinois, who was conducting more of his own investigation than a research project.
PROFESSOR GEORGE GOLLIN, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS: What happened was, we were getting so much spam on university computers that it was actually interfering with day-to-day operations.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Gollin was intrigued. He has spent years gaining his advanced education the hard way, and the thought of pop-up ads offering an easy way out was more than a little annoying. So, he began to dig in. And what he found was a network of universities wrapped around the Saint Regis name.
GRIFFIN: He thought it was all just a big scam. Then, this native New Yorker began to think about something else, 9/11.
GOLLIN: This is really scaring me, because I had tended to think of diploma mills as more of a consumer protection problem. And seeing that this was a much better developed organization, with much more -- a much wider spread infrastructure, with much broader practices, aims, alarmed me.
GRIFFIN: With Gollin's information, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Secret Service launched a multi-state investigation. Eight people have been indicted so far. All have pleaded not guilty. And the U.S. attorney in Spokane says one ring that pumped out thousands and thousands of fake diplomas a year is shut down.
The problem is, there are plenty more diploma mills on the Web, willing to graduate anyone with a credit card. Remember the degree we bought from Rochville University for a wanted terrorist? We tried to find Rochville, sent e-mails to the site and got an automated response telling us our student counselor would contact us soon. It never happened.
The diploma itself was mailed from the United Arab Emirates. Rochville related Web sites and e-mails have links to Karachi, Pakistan; Sarasota, Florida; a Web hosting site in Atlanta; and a Web billing address in this largely abandoned building in Dover, Delaware.
We couldn't find evidence of Rochville University at any of these locations. (on camera): This is as close as we have come to finding Rochville University. Its domain name is registered to Mr. Joseph Lee in this apartment building outside of Boston, suite 401. The problem is, nobody we could find ever heard of the university, ever heard of Joseph Lee, and the manager says there's not even a suite by that number.
(voice-over): As far as we know, Rochville is still out there, still willing to award degrees to anyone willing to pay, even a suspected al Qaeda bomb maker named Omar.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Malden, Massachusetts.
ZAHN: And, if that's not enough, Drew tells us his suspected terrorist managed to graduate with top honors from Rochville University and a B-plus in an ethics course, all for only an extra $30.
Still ahead tonight, a medical mystery. What forces some people to endlessly crave food, eat constantly, yet never feel full?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What is it like being hungry all the time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's terrible. I don't know anything else that is so (INAUDIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And incurable and really baffling problem coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alina Cho in New Orleans, where so many Katrina evacuees want to return to the city, but can't. They say some landlords are literally pricing them out. So, What's going on, and is it legal? I will have the answer coming up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And I don't think too many of you are going to be sitting on the fence about this one tonight. A woman has filed a $15 million lawsuit over spilled coffee from a Dunkin' Donuts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that polling station, though you can't see them from here, is being manned by tribal militias. They're
ROBERTSON: (INAUDIBLE) polling stations.
That was one of the first big explosions in this city. That's what we're talking about here.
Anderson, we have to go in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: A blast in Ramadi, Iraq, earlier today, as our own Nic Robertson reported on the opening of the polls in today's historic parliamentary elections.
Well, tonight, the vote-counting has begun in Iraq, as well as the wait to see who won. And the wait has also begun to see if it makes any difference at all, if the insurgency will cool off and if it will help get U.S. troops home sooner.
Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour spent the day following the voting. She has an update for us now, live from Baghdad -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, indeed.
And those are the big questions people are asking, particularly the Iraqis, whether the violence will end and, the Americans, whether they can actually start to draw down.
People did stream to the polls. The voting was very high. The turnout was very high, most especially in the Sunni areas, which had boycotted last time around. This will be for a four-year government. So, it's really critical, what happens in this election. And the ballots are being counted now.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Blast walls and barbed wire, soldiers and policemen. But this is Iraq, and that is normal voting procedure.
Democracy day is also a holiday, and whole families have come out to the polls, a pat-down for the parents, a playful pinch for the kids. No, they don't cast ballots, but do like to dip their fingers in the purple ink that's proof of voting.
The little girl's mother, aunt and grandmother all proudly raise their fingers for this Iraqi TV reporter, as he tells his viewers all over the country, they are one day closer to seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
There are prayers and personal gestures.
"God is great," he says, "to bring us this freedom."
Voting in Shia neighborhoods was brisk, as it always is. Iraq's long-suffering Shia majority has gained great power at the ballot box since the U.S. deposed Saddam. Despite their voting strength, this time, the story is about the minority, the Sunnis.
(on camera): This is Dora in southern Baghdad. It's a mostly Sunni neighborhood and very violent, factional fighting, IEDs against American forces. Officials have been killed here, police and other election workers. And last January's elections, they boycotted. They did not come to the polls.
(voice-over): But, today, they were out in force. Here, in Baghdad, and all over Iraq, the Sunnis were having second thoughts.
"Last time, the insurgents threaten today below us up if we voted," says this woman. "So, the election went to only one party. We saw ourselves marginalized. That's not good. So, we decided to turn out strongly in this election to tell everyone that we are here."
But will their vote end the violent insurgency? No one believes that ballots will stop bombs and bullets just yet, but they hope, eventually, it will. So, most of all, they are voting to end the bloodshed, then, for electricity to be restored, for the garbage to be collected, and for money in their pocketbooks, says the owner of this furniture and toy store.
"People don't go out shopping as much, because they are afraid of explosions," he says. "There is not enough investment. Our economy is deteriorating."
As if to make his point, moments later, two explosions split the air. And U.S. helicopters roar overhead, searching for the rocket- launchers. For U.S. soldiers, it's a constant game of cat and mouse.
COLONEL CARDON, U.S. SOLDIER: It's a struggle every day, but it's hard to protect every square inch of Baghdad.
AMANPOUR: In the end, Election Day was less violent than the average day in Iraq.
"We need democracy, security and to build a good future for our children," says this woman. On this day, the children seemed to be saying the same thing.
AMANPOUR: Now, it probably be will -- will be a week or more before the full and final official results are out, and then probably several more weeks, or a month or so, until a government can be formed.
And it may take a lot of pushing and molding and cajoling from the Americans here, the ambassador, because, last time around, it took three months to form a government after the January elections -- Paula.
ZAHN: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much. Appreciate that late report. And, still ahead, just how bad can it get in New Orleans? Now people who want to come back say the cost of housing is skyrocketing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: Would you go so far as to say that this is price-gouging?
CHIQUITA SIMMS, KATRINA EVACUEE: It's definitely price-gouging.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: The new outrage just three months after the disaster.
And, a little bit later on, a baffling medical condition, people with an incurable urge to eat; yet, they never feel satisfied -- how it can tear apart lives.
Also, would you sue over spilled hot coffee? Wait until you hear about a new $15 million lawsuit against Dunkin' Donuts.
ZAHN: We're going to tell you now that you might find pretty darn outrageous.
Three months after Hurricane Katrina, the state, local and federal officials who are supposed to oversee the levee system that failed still can't degree on who is really still in charge of the levees. That came out today at a congressional hearing.
At almost the same time, the White House invited Mayor Ray Nagin for the announcement of a $3.1 billion federal plan to fix the levees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAGIN: And I want to say all New Orleanians, to all businesses, it's time for you to come home. It's time for to you come back to the Big Easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Well, on the surface, that might sound pretty good, but there is yet another problem. Right now, people who want to come back to New Orleans are getting a rude surprise.
Keep in mind that an estimated 70 percent of those who lived in New Orleans before Katrina rented their homes. Now, if they want to go back, they're finding that their rents have skyrocketed.
Alina Cho has been working on this story all day and just filed this report.
CHO (voice-over): The new New Orleans is an expensive, very expensive, place to live. Katrina evacuees who want to return are finding they can't. Rents have doubled, in some cases, tripled. Residents like Sherry Cunningham and her daughter, Megan (ph), feel priced out.
SHERRY CUNNINGHAM, KATRINA EVACUEE: The perfect example is, we found a three-bedroom for $950. We were so excited. We called. And he said, oh, I'm sorry. I went up to -- I decided to go up to $1,250 today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
CHO: Megan (ph) is up against the clock. She will be a senior At Tulane University when classes resume next month. They're renting a room on the outskirts of the city, while they look for something permanent.
CUNNINGHAM: The one across the street is not too bad.
CHO: They feel that landlords, post-Katrina, are out for a quick buck.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the perfect opportunity...
CUNNINGHAM: To take advantage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To take advantage.
CUNNINGHAM: We're all in dire straits.
CHO: In dire straits, but at least in New Orleans.
Chiquita Simms and her son are stuck hundreds of miles away, in Atlanta. Before Katrina, she paid $800 a month for her two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. Now she would be lucky to find something for $2,000 a month. So, she's waiting it out in this bare-bones apartment.
CHIQUITA SIMMS, KATRINA EVACUEE: This is not the way a freezer looks for a household in New Orleans.
CHO: The rest of the apartment is just as empty. She sleeps on a blow-up mattress in the living room. Her son got a bed last week.
SIMMS: At a time when people are down to their least and wanting to come back to contribute to the economy, or wanting to come back, you can't, because you can't afford it. We're priced out.
CHO (on camera): Would you go so far as to say that this is price gouging?
SIMMS: It's definitely price-gouging.
CHO (voice-over): Attorney Judson Mitchell represents people searching for affordable housing. He says there are three main problems. An estimated one-third of the city's homes were wiped out in the storm. FEMA workers are willing to pay top dollar for places to live. Finally, state housing laws let landlords evict month-to- month tenants without cause.
JUDSON MITCHELL, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: So, the previous tenants, when they come back, they generally find that the landlord doesn't want to talk to them, does everything to avoid them, tells them that they have to leave, and, in many cases, just straight-out evicts them, so they can clear the way for these new people to come in and, you know, get those big rents.
CHO: And it's all perfectly legal.
ANDREW HOOPER, RIVERLAKE PROPERTIES: It's about our survival as -- as landowners.
CHO: Andre Hooper manages more than 1,000 rental units in the city. He's collecting rent on half. The other half, damaged in the storm, are under repair. But those repairs don't come cheap these days. For example, laborers now charge between 50 and 100 percent more an hour than they did before Katrina.
HOOPER: I think we have probably gone up 10 percent on the stuff that we can rent right now, but our expenses far outweigh that. I mean, it's not even close.
CHO: Sherry and Megan (ph) Cunningham say they could understand a 10 percent increase in rent, but, so far, everything they have seen has been a lot more than that.
(on camera): So, you're essentially waiting it out?
CUNNINGHAM: We're waiting it out. We are -- we're hoping that, as more properties become available, those that do have to be fixed up, that the prices will start going down.
CHO (voice-over): They could be waiting a long time.
Alina Cho, CNN, New Orleans.
ZAHN: And there's one more thing to share with you. The New Orleans City Council met today to talk about a proposal to stabilize rents in the city. A similar measure is before Congress, but it's unlikely that there will be any action on that at least January.
This next story got us all talking because it reminded us of a famous lawsuit that stirred up plenty of outrage. Remember the woman who was awarded nearly $3 million after spilling hot coffee from McDonald's? Well, that amount was eventually reduced quite dramatically.
But now a woman in New York is suing Dunkin' Donuts for $15 million because she says she was badly burned last month when steaming hot coffee spilled on her legs. Sharon Shea says it happened because a Dunkin' Donuts employee hadn't fastened the lids on the coffee cups.
Sharon and her lawyer, Jon D'Agostino, are with me now. Good to have both of you with us.
SHARON SHEA, SUING DUNKIN' DONUTS: Thank you.
ZAHN: Thank you.
JON D'AGOSTINO, ATTORNEY FOR SHARON SHEA: Hello.
ZAHN: So, describe to us what happened. You bought two cups of coffee.
SHEA: I bought two cups of coffee. And we went through the drive-through window. And my friend handed them to me. And I had them on my lap.
And we were pulling into a strip mall, maybe 100 feet away. And, as the car was coming to a stop, all of a sudden, the lids fell off and the coffee spilled down on to my legs and burned me unbelievably, really bad.
ZAHN: Second- and third-degree burns.
SHEA: Second- and third-degree burns. And...
ZAHN: And, Sharon, you couldn't tell, as you were carrying this coffee -- oh, that's awful. We're looking at a picture of your badly injured leg there.
But you couldn't tell the lids were loose on these coffee cups as you were driving around with them on your lap?
SHEA: Well, we just went about 100 feet. So, I assumed they were on tight. I didn't check them. But I assumed they were on.
But, obviously, the tops just came right off. And the coffee spilled on my legs. And the pain was unbelievable. I ripped off my sneaker. I ripped off my socks. And my skin on my leg was pulled completely back. I had no skin on my leg. And I knew I was in serious, serious trouble.
ZAHN: But whose fault is this, really? Was it the guy that was in the car to you that handed this to you?
ZAHN: And you bear no responsibility for these injuries, because you were carrying these cups in your lap...
SHEA: Yes, I had it in my lap.
But, as the car was stopping -- it wasn't stopped yet -- the coffee lids came off and fell right on to my leg. D'AGOSTINO: You know, Paula...
ZAHN: You have got to know, Jon -- and you have seen this stuff on the Internet -- people are calling this the most frivolous lawsuit of the decade.
There were episodes about this on "Seinfeld."
ZAHN: They think this is absolutely nuts, that you don't think your client should bear any responsibility for this injury. And we all feel badly it happened to her.
D'AGOSTINO: Well, I mean, it's -- it's -- you know, it's funny. It -- it does seem frivolous, until you -- you take a look at the third-degree burns that this caused, and when you -- you realize what this woman has gone through.
You have to hold Dunkin' Donuts accountable. I mean, it's funny. So many people are -- ask me what I think Dunkin' Donuts did wrong. And I'm asking them, what -- you know, what did Dunkin' Donuts do right? I mean, here, they -- they brewed this coffee at an excessively high, dangerous temperature.
ZAHN: That hasn't been proven yet, but this -- this is one the...
D'AGOSTINO: Allegedly. Caused third-degree burns.
ZAHN: ... that Dunkin' -- Dunkin' Donuts is going to investigate.
D'AGOSTINO: Of -- of course.
Allegedly poured this into cups that were not properly secured, and didn't properly secure them in a tray.
ZAHN: But don't you think Sharon should have noticed that, that when -- when this carton was handed to her, that the -- the lids were loose?
D'AGOSTINO: Well, I mean, there's always a degree of contributory negligence that is placed on -- on a person who is injured.
In the -- in the infamous McDonald's case, the jury found that person 20 percent at fault. And that was a woman who actually was a passenger in her vehicle and was opening the -- the lid herself when she spilled the coffee on her own lap.
ZAHN: So, are you -- you're suing on a couple of different fronts, that you're saying that this was brewed at too hot of a temperature, in addition to the fact that the employees were negligent because they didn't clamp down the lids?
ZAHN: ... tight enough on the cup?
D'AGOSTINO: Oh, absolutely.
D'AGOSTINO: We are saying that the -- the coffee was a defective product.
And this is a product that very easily could have caused a serious injury, and did, in fact, and -- and has probably caused many people similar burns.
ZAHN: And, Sharon, I know this, obviously, is no laughing matter. You were in tremendous pain.
SHEA: Oh, my God, excruciating pain.
ZAHN: This -- this -- yes, the whole recovery process has not been easy.
SHEA: I was in the intensive care burn unit for two-and-a-half weeks, in pain you wouldn't believe.
ZAHN: But -- but you know what some folks out there are saying.
ZAHN: And they're quite cynical about this case.
Just a final thought about what you think they ought...
ZAHN: ... to know about how serious you think this actually is...
ZAHN: ... and why you -- why you don't think this is a frivolous lawsuit.
SHEA: My God.
In a million years, when I went to get a cup of coffee, I never, never thought this would happen to me. I didn't check the lids because I assumed the girl put the lids on tight. And they should have been placed catty-corner, the cups. They weren't. They were placed like this. And I believe they were top-heavy. The lids were not on. And that's when we came to a stop, and it poured on to my legs. This is the mistake. Most people, I don't think, check their lids and check their coffee. Everybody goes for coffee all the time, and you don't think of those things. And, unfortunately...
ZAHN: And you never thought about it being dangerous, even when there's a warning on the cup that says extremely hot and dangerous? You can burn yourself by carrying it around?
SHEA: You know what, Paula, we just went 100 feet into the next strip mall. I was going to get out and run into the store. This happened so fast, I can't even begin to tell you. It was a total nightmare, it happened so fast.
ZAHN: Well, we appreciate both of you dropping by to tell us about this case. Sharon Shea, Jon D'Agostino. Appreciate it.
And just a short time ago, Dunkin' Donuts sent us a statement regarding Sharon Shea's lawsuit. I think you're hearing this for the first time. "The safety of Dunkin' Donuts customers is extremely important to us. Upon learning of this report, we immediately began an investigation to obtain the facts and evidence of this case, in the hopes of determining what happened."
We're going to continue to follow this story and let you know what happens.
Coming up next, a baffling medical condition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No! Wait. Wait. Wait!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: What causes insatiable hunger in some people, craving so strong they just can't stop eating?
And then a little bit later on, a new solution to one of the most painful talks two people can have -- about STDs, sexually transmitted diseases.
Also, lives hanging in the balance. Our fascination with amazing rescue video.
ZAHN: Tonight's eye opener is a medical mystery. Imagine spending every minute of your life feeling hungry, eating meal after meal, stuffing yourself, yet never, ever feeling full. Well, it sounds incredible, but there are thousands of people out there who suffer this way every single day of their lives. You're about to meet two of them, a man and a woman who have lived their lives in constant hunger because of a baffling syndrome. Elizabeth Cohen has their story in tonight's "Eye Opener."
MARIBEL RIVERA: No! Wait. Wait! Wait!
COHEN (voice-over): The sound of the local ice cream truck makes most children smile, but that sound is torture for Maribel Rivera (ph). She's desperate for ice cream, or anything else to eat, tormented by a constant hunger that never, ever goes away.
And it's not all in her head. Scientists have discovered that people like Maribel are missing a piece of genetic material. They're mentally challenged, and they're always hungry.
Brawny Mauer's (ph) son, Andy, has always lived with that non- stop hunger since he was a child.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you think I have to get something to eat, they're never without that feeling.
COHEN (on camera): What is it like to feel hungry all the time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's terrible. I don't know anything else that's so embarrassing.
COHEN: Some people might think, why can't you just control yourself? If I see a donut, I just don't eat it. Why can't you do that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't. Because it's there. It's the (INAUDIBLE), the need, the urge to get the food.
COHEN (voice-over): After 46 years, he's finally begun to learn how to live with that urge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the time, I can control it.
COHEN: But Maribel's long, difficult journey might never reach that point. Her mother, Mercedes Rivera, had two normal pregnancies, gave birth to two healthy children, but the third child was different. When Maribel was born, she didn't cry and she didn't nurse. Doctors struggled with what was wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I said, well, what is wrong with my daughter? And they said, nobody has really said anything to me. He said, well, your daughter is retarded. And that's how she said it, just blunt like that.
COHEN: All signs pointed to a genetic disorder called Prader- Willi Syndrome, that affects one in 15,000 people. Dr. Suzanne Cassidy is a medical geneticist and a professor of pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco.
DR. SUZANNE CASSIDY, MEDICAL GENETICIST: Individuals with Prader-Willi Syndrome have a period of what we call failure to thrive. They tend to have very poor growth, first in weight and then in length, for a number of weeks or months in infancy. And some time between 1 and 6 years of age, it seems all of a sudden, one day, the child starts eating whatever they can get their hands on.
COHEN: Maribel was a classic case. She had a low IQ. She was late to walk and even later to talk. She was shorter than average. And from the age of 5, Maribel gained weight fast.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was eating more than usual, or asking for more, or she just probably had a meal and she wanted to eat again.
COHEN: The Riveras had to change the way they lived to keep Maribel from eating herself to death.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes we even had to like rush ourselves to eat, because if we just kind of do it slow, she'll start looking at everybody's plate, to make sure that nobody was looking and she'll steal from other family members' plate.
COHEN: Food had to be locked up, and the Riveras had to put a fence around their house to keep Maribel from getting out and finding food on her own. But it didn't always work.
MARIBEL: Will you buy me a hot dog, please?
COHEN: Maribel's older sister made a documentary about her 24- year struggle with Prader-Willi Syndrome. She caught this startling moment.
MARIBEL: Will you buy me a one hot dog, please? I'm so hungry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is your parents?
MARIBEL: I don't have no parents. Please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
MARIBEL: Please? Thank you. Thank you. I want ketchup.
COHEN: By the time Maribel was 23, she stood 4'10" and weighed 235 pounds. She had trouble breathing and was diagnosed with diabetes. Her parents checked her into a hospital.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When she first was admitted into the hospital, she was stealing from patients. She was stealing from even the trash.
COHEN: In the hospital, she gained 20 pounds. Her parents brought her home and put her on a strict diet. That sparked a rage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was something that I couldn't even handle. And in fact, my husband had to actually take over, because of the strength and her tantrums and her -- became really strong and violent that I was not able to handle her. As she got older, it got worse.
COHEN: There's no cure for Prader-Willi Syndrome. The Riveras realized that the only place that could regulate Maribel's disorder was a group home, where she could be watched around the clock. CASSIDY: When such individuals get put into a group home for adults, especially with Prader-Willi Syndrome, this is when I have seen the most amazing weight loss and increase in fitness.
The food is locked up. It's not available between meals and snacks. Everybody in the home is on a diet, not just that one person.
COHEN: It worked for Andy Mauer (ph). He lost 80 pounds when he moved into this group home. He got a job at a recycling plant, spent a lot of time riding horses, and even started dating.
(on camera): I hear you have a girlfriend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I have maybe a couple. Only way I go on dates is if I give my mom my money so I won't go get -- so I won't go out and get food.
COHEN: Why couldn't you just keep Andy at home?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because who would care for him when we're gone? It was very difficult, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
COHEN: And how is that living with other people with Prader- Willi?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like it. Because I need people around me. Because I need the companionship. It's like -- it's like our house, it's -- we're a -- staff included, we're a family. (INAUDIBLE) have to keep busy so their minds won't be on food all the time.
COHEN: Tell me about what you've done that you're most proud of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in horseback riding and I got -- won first places several times, which made me eligible to go to the International World Games in Dublin, Ireland.
COHEN (voice-over): Andy won a Bronze Medal at those special Olympics, but with all of his achievements, Andy still has a desperate urge for food 24 hours a day.
Maribel's family knows that living in a group home won't take away her hunger, but they also know it's the only way to control her behavior. As they go to her new home in Wisconsin, they're full of hope.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you excited, Maribel? What are you going to do there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE : Watch a movie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Swimming, exercise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exercise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make new friends? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Friends.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lose some weight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Weight.
COHEN: The adjustment to this new place will be difficult, but the first signs are good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'm going to stay here.
COHEN: Leaving Maribel behind will be hard for her family, but they know that this decision could save her life.
ZAHN: And, Elizabeth, given the fact that there's no cure for this, in the end, is that about the only thing you can do to confront it, is to have someone watch these folks 24 hours a day and keep the food locked up, as cruel as that may seem?
COHEN: It does sound so cruel, Paula, but that's what doctors and families have found. As you said, there is no cure. And look at how these families have had to live, building houses -- fences around their houses, locking up the food. Andy Mauer, who you met in this story, his parents slept on their wallets. They put the wallets under the pillow when he lived with them, because he would take money and go buy food. So you can see how difficult this is.
Now, one man who lived in Andy's home, he left and he went out to his parents' house -- he unfortunately ate himself to death. He ate so much that his stomach ruptured. That's unfortunately what does happen sometimes to people with this disease.
ZAHN: Very, very sad. But it seems like these families are trying to make the best of it.
Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.
Coming up next, it's a conversation no one ever wants to face: Telling a partner about an STD, a sexually transmitted disease. Wait until you see how some people are solving that problem.
Also, some amazing rescues like this one. Why we can't keep our eyes off of them. Stay with us.
ZAHN: If you have kids watching our show tonight, you may want to shoo them out of the rooms for our next report. It deals with sexually transmitted disease. Some people in California have come up with a unique way to avoid one of the unpleasant conversations two people could ever have, when one discovers he or she has an STD and has to tell a partner.
Here's Thelma Gutierrez. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you have a sexually transmitted disease like herpes, gonorrhea or HIV, telling your partner or partners may be one of the most difficult things you'll ever do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry to have to send you this information.
GUTIERREZ: Difficult, but not impossible. Especially if the news is delivered anonymously with an STD e-mail card.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who, what, when, where? It doesn't matter. I got an STD. You might have it too. Please get checked out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heads up, I caught an STD since we messed around.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're too hot to be out of the action. I got diagnosed with an STD since we played, and you might want to get checked too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This says, there's something I need to tell you.
GUTIERREZ: Dr. Jonathan Fielding is director of public health for Los Angeles County. This Web site, inspotla.org, is one of the latest in his arsenal against sexually transmitted diseases, e-cards that make it easier for the infected person to break the bad news to six different partners anonymously.
DR. JONATHAN FIELDING, L.A. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES: Unfortunately, it remains a problem nationally and internationally, that a lot of times partners aren't notified, that even if the information on how to identify those partners is known to the individual, because they're embarrassed, they're afraid.
GUTIERREZ: Joseph Terrill has HIV and says he is sexually active, but tells all of his partners beforehand that he's infected.
JOSEPH TERRILL, HIV PATIENT: There are some people that are very, very upfront and open about themselves and their sexuality, you know, et cetera. There's a whole lot of people out there, though, that aren't. And that's precisely why they use the Internet, to remain anonymous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Choose your STD.
GUTIERREZ: The Health Department says the only personal information they keep is your zip code, if you choose to include it. And they say they do not keep any of the names or e-mail addresses.
The downside? Anyone can send out e-cards, including pranksters.
(on camera): So, it could happen? FIELDING: Oh, sure. Absolutely, it could happen, just like you can call somebody and leave an anonymous message on their voicemail or, you know, or today send them a letter.
GUTIERREZ: The Web site guides the recipient of the e-card to information about the specific disease, and where to get help -- from hotline numbers to a regional map with driving directions to clinics.
FIELDING: One-stop shopping increases the likelihood that somebody is going to take action, take action in a timely manner.
GUTIERREZ: Terrill says time is of the essence. He's one of an estimated 60,000 people in Los Angeles County infected with HIV. One quarter of that population may not even know. And with each new sex partner, the disease continues to spread.
Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.
ZAHN: And we're looking at just about 11 minutes before the hour. Let's go to Erica Hill for tonight's HEADLINE NEWS business break -- Erica.
ZAHN: "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up at the top of the hour. Hi, Lar. Who is going to join you tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Hi, Paula. I guess he's with us every quarter of the year, so three, four times a year. Bill Maher is with us. The always outrageous, always interesting, never dull, Bill Maher. You may not love him, but you got to watch him. Bill Maher tonight, with phone calls at the top of the hour, immediately following our dear Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks, Larry. And will you tell Bill I liked his latest book? It was very funny.
KING: Oh, yeah. Oh, "The New Rules." Hysterical.
ZAHN: You should have it sitting right there. I'm sure at some point in the program you'll probably hold that book jacket up.
KING: I imagine we will.
ZAHN: Have fun. It's always fun talking to him.
KING: Thanks, Paula.
ZAHN: When we come back, you can't take your eyes off of them. What's behind the fascination with amazing rescues caught on tape? Stay with us. We'll show you some of them.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Every once in a while, a story comes along that is absolutely stunning. A real jaw dropper. And wouldn't you know it? Our Jeanne Moos has found just that in this report. Let's all watch together.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What do a baby named Eric and a dog named Pixie have in common? Close calls and CPR. Not since Michael Jackson held his son over a balcony has a dangled baby gotten so much attention. Because this dangled baby was dropped by his mom.
TRACINDA FOXE, MOTHER: I just prayed and I let him go.
MOOS: Trapped by a fire three floors up in a Bronx apartment, Tracinda Foxe held her month-old son out the window as building employees craned their necks, opened their arms, even stretched out a coat to catch the baby. But it was a Housing Authority supervisor who saved the day.
FELIX VASQUEZ, BABY'S RESCUER: I just threw my arms out there, prayed to God, give me a miracle, boom, grabbed the baby, and just took it from there. Everything happened so fast.
MOOS: It was a catch even a wide receiver would admire.
FOXE: I was grateful that he was there. He's my son's angel. He was.
MOOS: And after Felix Vasquez made the catch, he gave the soot- covered, unconscious baby CPR, which is what also saved Pixie the terrier at a house fire hundreds of miles away in Salem, Massachusetts. Firemen found Pixie unconscious in a cage.
WAYNE SILVA, SALEM FIRE DEPARTMENT: So I closed his mouth like this, and I put my mouth literally -- I'm sorry, buddy, like over his snout like that.
MOOS: There's amateur video of the mouth-to-snout resuscitation. Two fireman did CPR, then gave Pixie oxygen. Actually, pet CPR is commonly taught in classes, along with techniques like the Heimlich maneuver, but saving Pixie didn't save the fireman from jokes.
RICH LEBLANC, SALEM FIRE DEPARTMENT: My daughter made fun of me afterwards found out what I'd done. She said she's never going to kiss me again.
MOOS: At least they didn't have to catch the dog.
Back in New York, Felix Vasquez was demonstrating his catch over and over, in interview after interview.
Despite the computer game where firemen catch victims who jump from a burning building, real firemen say there is no right way to catch a baby. They're taught to use ladders. (on camera): There are no baby-catching techniques?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
(voice-over): Felix Vasquez, by the way, is a catcher on the Housing Authority softball team.
VASQUEZ: That came in handy.
MOOS: But this was one pop fly he dared not drop. A day later, this lucky baby was back to being handed rather than tossed.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: Every time I see that, my heart beats 10 times faster than it should be.
Coming up at the top of the hour, Larry King welcomes controversial comedian and talk show host Bill Maher. And we'll be right back.
ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night.
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