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A Look at Medical Aid in Sri Lanka

Aired January 8, 2005 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen. Here's a look at stories now in the news. People on the West coast are keeping an eye out for mud slides and flash floods this morning. A winter storm has melted parts of California and other states, heavy snow and rain. More storms, well they are on their way. One person was killed off California's central coast when a sailboat got caught in rough seas.
Former President Jimmy Carter is in the Mid East this morning. He's one of hundreds of people serving as observers for the Palestinian presidential election tomorrow. The man on his right, moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas. He is favored to win.

Back here in the U.S., a deadly shooting in a Chicago nightclub early this morning. And police are searching for the gunmen. At least three people are dead and five others wounded. Police say the gunfire broke out when some people attending a private party were denied entry to another part of the club.

I'm Betty Nguyen. HOUSECALL with Dr. Sanjay Gupta starts right now.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning and welcome to a very special HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest hit by the tsunami.

Well it's been about two weeks since the disaster wrapped itself around this part of the world. And surely you've heard about the heartbreaking number of dead. But today, we want to talk about survivors. There are tens of thousands who are injured. And they are overwhelming clinics, as well as the services of volunteer doctors.

Paula Hancocks has a story of one doctor who's trying to help.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taking off from Amsterdam with $30,000 worth of essential medical supplies, Dr. Jonathan Fine has taken leave from his hospital in Connecticut to help the Sri Lankan tsunami victims.

20 hours later, he touches down in Colombo with U.S. aid agency Americares. He has a day acclimatize as the medicine clears the overwhelmed Sri Lanka customs. A seven-hour drive to one of the places Americares believes the medicine is needed most. Hambantata (ph), on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, is where the real work starts for Dr. Fine. Locals estimate between 3,000 and 10,000 people lost their lives here. The injured are countless.

The hospital was inundated with casualties. Dr. Fine's job is not only to deliver basic medicine now, but assess exactly what's needed in the coming days and weeks. On a tour of the hospital, he sees firsthand the type of injuries Sri Lankan doctors are struggling with.

DR. JONATHAN FINE, VOLUNTEER: She must be on a lot of oxygen.

HANCOCKS: Physical injuries Dr. Fine knows how to treat. The level of trauma is something he's never experienced.

FINE: You see the victim laying there lying in their beds, lying there, staring at us, and wondering what their stories were, how they'll ever learn to cope with this, from what they've seen, what they've lost. It's overwhelming.

HANCOCKS: Traveling along the damaged coastal road, he has time to absorb what he has seen.

FINE: I try to be objective. I think I fight back tears just like everybody else.

HANCOCKS: One doctor he spoke to was not able to fight back his tears as he talked about his experiences.

FINE: Saving the lives of babies and clinging for his own life and then his own inability to sleep now, his head hurts, he can't eat. He himself is traumatized.

HANCOCKS: When I asked if he would consider volunteering for disaster relief again, he replied simply it would be an honor.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Hambantata (ph), Sri Lanka.


GUPTA: Another doctor visiting the area is Senate majority leader Bill Frist. Not only is he the majority leader, he's also a cardiac transplant surgeon. I spent the day touring the hardest hit areas of Sri Lanka with him.


GUPTA (voice-over): On Thursday, the United States' most powerful doctor made the 20-hour journey from a Senate majority leader office in Washington to Columbo, Sri Lanka. Senator Bill Frist, who's also a heart surgeon, is better equipped than most politicians to assess just how bad it is here.

And he gave us an exclusive ride with him around the island on a helicopter.

So we've been traveling around Sri Lanka a little bit today. How bad is it, do you think?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: It's worse than I expected. I've had the opportunity to travel to other parts of the world in civil wars and in Sudan and the height of the SARS crisis. And this is as bad as it gets, in large part because it came so, so quickly.

GUPTA: Along with fellow Senator Mary Landrieu, Frist shared with us his first impressions.

FRIST: Complete destruction of the houses for as far as you can see.

GUPTA: Well, what is it that you hope to accomplish?

FRIST: I wanted to come here as soon as I possibly can to be able to look in patient's eyes, like the patients who are here today. It tells the whole story to me. You can see it on television. You can talk to people. You can get reports. You can talk about it on the floor of the United States Senate. There's no way you can capture the loss and the pain. And you know it's going to be there for weeks and months and years.

GUPTA: And now, the Senate majority leader is charged with taking the stories of the ruined villagers all the way back to the Senate floor.

Is there specific things you're going to do when you get back in terms of talking to your fellow legislators, the president?

FRIST: Oh, I will. And Secretary Powell and Condi Rice have been focusing on this from day one. The president has. I'll be reporting and talking to him. I will go to the floor of the United States Senate and talk to all my colleagues.

We've got 99 United States senators, other than myself, that are focused on this. And we're going to stay focused on it.

GUPTA: And it's the long-term assistance and the long-term remembering that will make the real difference.


GUPTA: The children, injured, orphans, lost. Saving them is much more than fixing their bodies. We'll show you what's being done when HOUSECALL returns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Devastation through the eyes of a child, what can anyone do to help? And...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It all happened in less than two minutes. I just kept thinking, what can I do?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A miraculous story of survival. Stay with us.


GUPTA: Welcome back to a special edition of HOUSECALL.

Blasts of relief are coming in from all over the world, but is it the right kind of relief to save the children? An 8-year-old helps us answer that question.


GUPTA (voice-over): Twenty miles from his town on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, Bennett Hasalina is just a boy who wants to go home. He gets up in the morning, brushes his teeth, runs around with his friends, comes up with ways to past the time.

There are no playgrounds, only an empty field strewn with rubbish and some broken wooden chairs. He wants to get home, but he's afraid to.

His story began the day after Christmas, when the tsunami wrapped itself around his country. He shares his new home and open classroom with 25 people from eight different families. They somehow carry their pride and dignity, crammed among as many as 1400 other people in this commandeered school with not enough toilets and no privacy.

Bennett is the face of the new normal in Sri Lanka, an already deprived community now nearly pushed over the edge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what has he been doing in the camp?

GUPTA: He is the child we all want to help, the focus of relief organizations and the outpouring of aid. But what he really wants is his old life back.

If you ask him what happened, he won't tell you. But he may draw you a picture like this one. His house damaged, but not destroyed. Vehicles from his village now upside-down in the water.

Daniel Wordsworth is a 6'2" Australian who was carrying the goodwill of ordinary Americans to Sri Lanka.

DANIEL WORDSWOTH, CHRISTIAN CHILDREN'S FUND: The event called us really and the needs of the children and the needs of the families that we hear. We woke up on that Sunday morning to their crisis, as did the rest of the world and basically immediately got into gear.

GUPTA: He is the international program director for the Christian Children's Fund, America's largest children's charity. And he's got $1.5 million donated dollars to spend right now.

But surprisingly, spending that kind of money can be difficult.

(on camera): It's a dilemma as old as the first relief effort. How can foreigners help a domestic crisis? What do individuals Americans who open their wallets to the tsunami victims get for their money?

(voice-over): Wordsworth faces two kinds of devastation in Sri Lanka, the physical and the psychological. Tens of thousands killed, entire neighborhoods erased, lives changed forever.

But as a doctor, I know that it's the emotional trauma that can last long afterwards and cause the deepest scars. Bennett's scars are buried under the crayons on the paper. The figure under the bamboo tree he says is his dead father. I now understood why Bennett is so afraid to go back home.

WORDSWORTH: Hundreds of families not willing to go back out of fear, fear that another tsunami will come. This is very critical to actually talk with the children about what they've experienced.

GUPTA: His mother never got the chance to break it to him gently. Bennett found out about the death of his father from others at the camp, who described him simply as the boy with no papa. The Christian Children Fund uses art therapy to reach children like Bennett.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this for him is a way to express what he's feeling at the moment, and where his thoughts are.

GUPTA: There's lots of data to show that works well in the States, but in Sri Lanka, many children have never even seen crayons. Foreigners trying to get children to talk about some of their most sensitive issues through art therapy might not work.

NANCY BARON, DR., GLOBAL PSYCHO-SOCIAL INITIATIVES: Children in Sri Lanka don't normally have crayons. They're not normally drawing. A child in a fishing village in Sri Lanka plays in other ways. They have other ways of handling problems. Art therapy would not be appropriate to their culture and their context.

GUPTA: The need here is enormous, but complicated. Relief workers are in a hurry. And somewhere along the way, one child seemed to get a little lost. Bennett just needs help getting home.

It won't be easy. I went with Bennett as he saw his home for the first time after the tsunami. Their house is still standing. They could move back in right now. But their future is no more certain than those who lost everything. Without the father, they have no means of support. A lot of people want to help. What can they do to help?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She says she wants to rebuild her home, send her children back to school, and for life to return to normal again.

GUPTA: What is her plan? What is she going to do next week or next month?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She says some organizations have promised to give food rations in the coming two months. So it's OK, the food will be provided by them. But after that, she doesn't have any plans. She says if she had the money, she would start a small business, but she doesn't have any means of starting it.

GUPTA: Why not just take the money and give it to the children?

WORDSWORTH: It really isn't that easy to just give money, because you may be giving it to the wrong person. And then that person won't always be able to see beyond the crisis they're in today. And they won't be able to look at the long term process of rebuilding their community.

GUPTA (on camera): Long-term, it's inevitable that we'll become desensitized to this devastation. Our attention will be distracted by some other stories.

But the wave that has torn so much apart has also brought together an 8-year-old boy and a 38-year-old man.

Daniel Wordsworth says he's here for the long haul. He's been posted to Sri Lanka for next three years, three years to try and figure out how to help children like Bennett, who will be here for the rest of his life.


GUPTA: Survival, it's a blessing, but how do you put the pieces of your life back together? When we come back, we'll have the story of one family's struggle.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Coming up on HOUSECALL, from holiday vacation to grief-filled searching, one man's story.

Also, how can you help with relief efforts? We'll show you coming up.

But first, this week's top medical headlines.


COHEN (voice-over): Documents obtained by CNN from a congressional source appear to show that Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, knew more than a decade ago that doctors reports to the Food and Drug Administration were much more likely to show that people on Prozac tried to commit suicide compared to patients taking for other antidepressants. The documents show complaints to the FDA were at least 12 times more likely to be about suicide attempts when a patient was taking Prozac compared to when patients were taking any of the other four antidepressants.

And reports of psychotic depression were twice as likely when patients took Prozac. Lilly confirmed that the documents were from the company and responded by saying "we do not believe these data for a number of reasons are terribly useful or informative in terms of suggesting anything about a causal link between the drug and the adverse events being reported."

Eli Lilly emphasized that these numbers were not part of a formal study.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.



GUPTA: Tens of thousands of people are still missing from the tsunami. And hope is fading that they'll actually be found alive. In Phuket, Thailand, there's a wall filled with photos and names. Some 6500 people there are missing. Many of them are tourists.

Matthew Chance has a story of one man who has a search, as well as grief.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're lost faces of the tsunami. Not confirmed dead, but as good as. These are some of the many swept from hotels and beaches in southern Thailand, mainly tourists.

Recovery efforts go on, but the sea may never surrender thousands it engulfed. Thomas Zumbuhl was in Thailand from Switzerland with his wife Berty when the tsunami hit. He searched hospitals and morgues to find her with no luck.

THOMAS ZUMBUHL, SURVIVOR: She's tall, and just a strong lady. And for the moment, she's pregnant more than five months. She has a big stomach. And she's really correct woman. And when she is somewhere, she make everything to contact me, that I know.

CHANCE: From the air, the full scale of disaster is overwhelming. This is what is left of the luxury resorts of Khaolak (ph). 30,000 people were here when the waves hit. We went with Thomas back to the ruins of the Sofitel, the resort where he and his wife were guests and where hundreds died in panic.

ZUMBUHL: My wife and me we were running here. And I lose my shoes. So I don't -- I don't - can follow her. The last thing that I see she was perhaps over there. And me, I go behind this pillar here.

CHANCE: This very pillar.

ZUMBUHL: It was exactly this pillar, yes. And from this moment on, I don't know nothing. It was -- the water coming high.

CHANCE: It's a story of random survival and tragedy repeated countless times here. Who knows why some lived while so many died.

ZUMBUHL: I feel empty. I feel -- I don't know what I do now. When I come home, I have to begin a new job but I don't - I can't do that now. And I feel I'm so -- I lose all these things, clothes, cameras and jewelry and -- but all these things are nothing. And they have no value finally when you see all these dead people, because when you go to your last trip, you take nothing with you.

CHANCE: The hard truth so many stricken with grief now have to bear.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Phuket, Thailand.


GUPTA: With all the stories of loss comes some amazing stories of survival. I'll talk to a woman who clung to her daughter and to hope. That's coming up.


GUPTA: Go to for a detailed list of relief organizations, as well as message boards about the missing.

I traveled to the southern coast of Sri Lanka earlier this week and I met with a mother and daughter who told me an amazing survival. Before you watch, though, I have to warn you some of the images may be disturbing.


GUPTA (voice-over): In a coastal southern Sri Lankan town, these gentle waves don't give any indication of the devastation they could wreak. When the tsunami came, it not only swept swimmers and boats out to deep sea, but half a kilometer inland, it swept a train right off its tracks, throwing the cars around as if they were toys.

Chendrika Kuhnaseka (ph), a school teacher and her daughter were returning home that day and had almost made it when the train suddenly screeched to a halt. They weren't alarmed at first, thinking it was a villager stepping on the tracks to commit suicide, a disturbingly common event in this deprived area of Sri Lanka.

But then she looked to her right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (through translator): I started shouting, oh my God, and grabbed my daughter.

GUPTA: She was staring right into the first wave of the tsunami.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water was rising incredibly fast and very quickly it rose to the train bar. Our heads floated to the top of the train box. It all happened in less than two minutes. I just kept thinking what can I do?

GUPTA: At the time, she thought only of her daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I put my daughter on top of the luggage rack inside of the train. GUPTA: When the second wave hit, her train was tossed through the air. And that was the last thing she remembers.

When they say it seems like a bomb went off, this is what they're talking about, a square kilometer of utter devastation creating an instant burial ground for more than 500 people.

(on camera): Today, about a week after the tsunami hit, 24 more bodies have been recovered.

Somehow Chendrika and her daughter were untouched with only a few scrapes. They escaped through a window. They were the only ones in their entire train car to survive.

The tsunami stripped this entire area of life and of hope. This victim died so suddenly, the hands still holds the handkerchief. Reminders of children lost, the most painful to see. A child's shoe, a baby's picture, a grade schooler's book, and a young boy's bike.

As the Sri Lankan Air Force raised bodies from the rubble, hundreds stare in stunned silence. Among the dead were those who lived in nearby homes, crushed not only by the waves, but also by a train hurdling through the air.

It will take an impossible long time to clean up, but eventually this area may return to some sense of what it was. At the same time, Chendrika and her daughter have already begun to piece back together their own lives.


GUPTA: The devastation you have witnessed over the past two weeks has been unforgettable. Yet, still many people will forget and they may stop paying attention.

Our final thought today on HOUSECALL is to continue to remind you and hope that you remember what happened here in this part of the world.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Sri Lanka. Stay tuned to CNN for more news on the recovery here and the tsunami.


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