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Democrats In Congress Reissuing Challenge For More Federal Stem Cell Funding; Man Spends $40,000 And Travels To China In Hopes Of Walking Again; Controversy Over Couple Who Kept Their Disabled Daughter Small; No Definitive Diagnosis For Alzheimer's; 250,000 Cancer Deaths Every Year Preventable

Aired January 13, 2007 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's just get you a quick look right now with our very own Reynolds Wolf in the CNN Weather Center. This is going to keep you plenty busy this weekend, Reynolds.
REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think it's going to keep all of us busy through this weekend and into early next week. Ice is going to be the big story. Snow, yes, that's going to be a problem, but ice is going to be the thing. It's going to cause many people, perhaps over a million people by the time we get to Monday, to be without power.

You have the funnel boundary moving from west to east. A lot of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. And we have some rain in Dallas right now and some snow forming to the north and Oklahoma.

Also, we're getting some ice on the I-44 corridor, as well as I- 35, extending northward along into I-70 in Missouri. Missouri's going to get a break for now, but we're going to see more moisture forming farther back out to the west. That could bring more ice, more snow as we make our way into the evening hours.

At this time, though, we have no major delays at any of the airports nationwide to report. All delays about 15 minutes to the west. So all things considered, it's moving pretty smoothly.

NGUYEN: Yes, well...

WOLF: Let's move back to you, Betty.

NGUYEN: Keep your fingers crossed.

WOLF: I know, it's going to be a long day. It's going to be a long weekend, no question about it.

NGUYEN: All right. Thank you, Reynolds. We do have your next check of the headlines. That is coming up at the top of the hour.

But first, "HOUSE CALL WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up on HOUSE CALL, stunting a child's growth for their own good. Would you make the same choice?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really thought I was going to die.


ANNOUNCER: Preventing a common and deadly disease. We'll show you how.

And potential cure or destroying life? The political battle over stem cells heats up, ahead on HOUSE CALL.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and welcome to HOUSE CALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We've got a lot to cover this morning.

Let's start right away with the news making headlines. Researchers reported people who take higher levels of the nutrient folate or folic acid in their diet may have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's. An interesting story. I'm going to have more on it later on in the show.

Plus, if you're sniffling and sneezing, don't assume it's a cold. Doctors on the East coast are seeing a surprising problem this winter - allergies. Experts say the warmer weather is not killing off mold spores.

And progress this week for South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson, who was upgraded to fair condition, and he is now breathing on his own. Senator Johnson was hospitalized four weeks ago after a brain hemorrhage.

Now on to our top story. One of the hottest debates this week has been mixing medicine with politics. Of course, I'm talking about stem cells. It's an emotional issue for many, as we saw in the fall elections when Michael J. Fox entered the ring with ads for pro stem cell candidates.

Now Democrats in Congress are reissuing the challenge for more federal stem cell funding.


GUPTA (voice-over): This is an embryonic stem cell. It can't be seen with the naked eye, but its impact on politics is unmistakable. Proponents believe these cells hold the power to cure many diseases.

JOHN GEARHART, JOHNS HOPKINS MED. INST.: They're the only ones we know about that can form all 220-some different cell types that constitute the human body. Now that's remarkable.

GUPTA: But others believe that an embryo in a petri dish, no matter how small, is a life. And destroying it for scientific purposes is tantamount to abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's destroying a human person. Do human beings have intrinsic dignity and worth? And we need to answer the question before we go any further as a society with this type of research.

GUPTA: President Bush demonstrated his resolve to restrict embryonic stem research this past July by vetoing a bill passed by both houses of Congress, the only legislation he has vetoed during his nearly six years in office.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American taxpayers would, for the first time in our history, be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos. And I'm not going to allow it.

GUPTA: It came as no surprise. Early in his presidency, Bush restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines created on or before August 9th, 2001. Many scientists say there are problems with these old stem cell lines.

GEARHART: They were derived under what we would call not the best conditions. They were grown in the presence of animal products, of other animal cells. And you're always concerned that they will -- that they could then harbor viruses.

GUPTA: Much of the scientific community is applauding the new legislation. Specifically, it would allow federally funded researchers to work on surplus embryos voluntarily supplied by in- vitro fertilization clinics.

The Senate is also expected to pass this bill as well. But the question remains, whether the president will use his veto once again.


GUPTA: And while leaders in Washington argue, other patients are left wondering, what are their options? We met one man willing to risk his life to get out of his wheelchair. CNN was with this man as he spent $40,000 and he traveled to China in hopes of walking again.


JIM DUNN, QUADRAPLEGIC: I believe I'll walk again. I believe this very firmly.

GUPTA (voice-over): Six years ago, Jim Dunn, a former Marine and one of the most active guys you'd ever meet, was walking down the street. He was violently struck from behind on the spine with a steel rod by an unknown assailant. Suddenly, he was paralyzed from the neck down.

His doctors didn't offer any hope. So Dunn turned for help where many turn in desperation, the Internet. He found a Web site offering an experimental procedure he saw as his only option. It would involve a trip from California to China and $40,000.

A neurosurgeon there, Dr. Huang Hongyun uses olfactory and sheeting cells. They are not stem cells, but they do come from aborted fetuses, which are readily available in China.

Huang believes these nose and brain cells can help nerve fibers recover and repair themselves. Dr. Huang says he has performed more than 1,000 operations, directly injecting these cells into the brain or spine cord. He has done it for ALS, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, strokes, cerebral palsy, and yes, spinal cord operations.

Dr. Glenn Dobkin, a UCLA neurologist who's examined some of Huang's other patients, criticizes his lack of clinical trials and follow-up with his patients.

DR. GLENN DOBKIN, UCLA NEUROLOGIST PROFESSOR: These patients that I saw came back with holes in the brain, holes in different parts of the spinal cord, and no improvement.

GUPTA: CNN got an exclusive interview with Dr. Huang this past summer.

DR. HUANG HONGYUN, NEUROSURGEON: I never tell patients all treatment, all procedures can cure them. I never tell them.

GUPTA: In China, Dr. Huang told the 68-year-old Dunn he would receive an injection of one million nose and brain cells into his spinal cord. Before Dunn's surgery, hospital nurses shot this video of him. He had a hard time doing simple tasks.

According to his sister's journal, the operation was dicey. Dunn stopped breathing. He flat lined, almost died. He was resuscitated. Awake, he reported feeling sensations in both arms that he didn't have before. And later, some in his hands and fingers. Several months later, though, he still can't walk. Huang says he's not surprised.

HUANG: For Jim Dunn, I don't think he can recover to walk.

GUPTA: Jim was stunned.

DUNN: He never told me that. It seems kind of incongruous to think that he would take my money knowing that he wasn't going to be able to do anything for me, doesn't it?

GUPTA: Still, even today, Dunn holds out hope.

DUNN: I'm always going to believe that this venture that I have embarked upon is going to pay the dividends that I want it to. I got two parachutes left with about 6,000 jumps still left on them. And I intend to get every one of them.


GUPTA: Really remarkable. And we wish Jim, of course, the best of luck in his battle to walk. It is important to point out Jim receives intense therapy, so it's hard to say if any movement that he regained was from experimental surgery or from his hard work during rehabilitation.

Coming up on HOUSE CALL, parents' controversial decision to stunt their child's growth brings outrage and it brings sympathy.

Plus, new research suggests adding foods like spinach to your diet may help prevent Alzheimer's. I'll give you the details.

And later in the show, America's bad health is costing U.S. companies. Find out how some employers are helping themselves by helping you.


GUPTA: Remember to check out my blog at Just click on "blog" in the upper right corner and send me a comment. Become part of the online conversation.

A topic that drew some strong opinions on the blog this week was the story of Ashley, a little girl whose parents call her their pillow angel because she's unable to do anything for herself.


GUPTA (voice-over): Ashley has a mysterious brain impairment doctors can't fully explain. She's never learned how to walk, talk, or even sit up by herself. Nine years later, nothing's changed. Her doctors say nothing will.

DR. DOUGLAS DIEKEMA, SEATTLE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Her cognitive function was the equivalent of that of an infant and always will be. So when you see Ashley, it's like seeing a baby in a much larger body.

GUPTA: Ashley spends her days lying down. Her parents call her their pillow angel, because she can't move on her own. They worried about how they would care for her as she grew and became less easy to handle.

So three years ago, they made the radical decision to keep her small. Doctors gave her estrogen therapy with a patch to stunt her growth. Surgeons removed her uterus and her breast buds. They say procedures were performed only after careful deliberation by an ethics panel at Seattle Children's Hospital.

The result, Ashley will be about 4'5" and 75 pounds for the rest of her life. She'll never hit puberty. Her parents want Ashley's story told, but they don't want to talk to the media. So they set up a Web site. On it, they wrote this.

"Ashley will be a lot more physically comfortable, free of menstrual cramps, free of the discomfort associated with large and fully-developed breasts, and with a smaller and lighter body that is better suited to constant lying down and is easier to be moved around." Some medical ethicists are critical.

DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: I think, however, using hormones and surgery to permanently keep somebody in a childlike state robs them of their right to kind of grow and develop and become an adult. GUPTA: But Ashley's parents have cautioned, unless you are living the experience, you are speculating. And you have no clue what it would be like to be the bedridden child or their caregivers.


GUPTA: And as I mentioned, Ashley's story and her parents' decision have created a firestorm of e-mails, blog entries, and editorials. Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has been tracking the emotional Internet traffic -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Sanjay. It seems like everyone on the Internet these days has an opinion about what Ashley's parents did to their daughter.

Now, a lot of the blogging has been done from other parents with disabled children. For example, a blogger who calls herself "nuf said"' wrote, "Ashley's parents need to be charged with child abuse. Her physicians need to be locked up for life for mutilation. I am just revolted."

Now there have also been positive comments. For example, Christina writes on the Web site, "We want our children to be happy. And in the face of such a heartbreaking disability, why wouldn't we do everything in our power to obtain that happiness?"

Now this story lives on the Internet. It's the only place where Ashley's parents communicate with the public. And I'm sure that we're going to see even more opinions come out in the days and weeks to come. Sanjay?

GUPTA: I bet you're right. That sounds like it would be true. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Whether in you're 40s and worried about your parents, or you're in your 60s and beyond worried about senior moments, a new study offers some hope.

Researchers at Columbia University found folate, or folic acid, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. Very interesting. Scientists discovered that all the people they researched, those who had very little folate in their diet had the highest risk of Alzheimer's, while those who consumed adequate amounts through diet or supplements had the lowest risk.

Now you may be asking yourself, what is an adequate amount? Well, a cup of frozen spinach would work or two cups of peas or a three ounce piece of liver. Each of those would satisfy your folate needs for the day and these researchers believe lower your risk of developing the memory-robbing disease.

Over the next few decades, the number of Alzheimer's cases is going to explode. It's a fact. Experts predict a quadrupling, four times in the number of people with the disease. What many people don't realize is there's no definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer's.

Judy Fortin has that story.


KRIS BAKOWSKI, ALZHEIMER'S PATIENT: I was relieved, really, because there was a name to it. It wasn't a good thing, but at least I knew that I wasn't crazy.

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifty-year-old Kris Bakowski has early onset Alzheimer's. Getting the diagnosis took almost nine months.

JOHN MORRIS, ALZHEIMER'S ASSOCIATION: Unfortunately, even for the typical form of Alzheimer's disease that happens in older adults, half of the people in the United States who have Alzheimer's disease go unrecognized by their physicians.

FORTIN: Dr. Morris says specialists are 90 percent accurate in diagnosing the disease, but first must eliminate other illnesses and then ask a series of questions to determine extent of memory loss.

MORRIS: It surprises many people that Alzheimer's disease has no test. You can't do a blood test or a CAT scan or an MRI scan.

FORTIN: It's not just the patients who are frustrated. So are the researchers.

STEPHEN MCCONNELL, ALZHEIMER'S ASSOCIATION: If people can at least get a diagnosis, they can at least make - they can avail themselves of existing benefits and get help.

FORTIN: Work is under way to come up with a battery of tests to diagnose Alzheimer's, but the equipment is limited and expensive. If researchers are successful, they say, it could revolutionize diagnosis.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: Let's hope that day comes sometime soon.

In the meantime, let's check more of this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


FORTIN (voice-over): As teenagers approach adulthood, many are developing bad eating habits and gain weight. Researchers say that demands on their time cause them to skip breakfast and eat too much fast food.

A new study in The Journal of Pediatrics reports that overweight girls as young as nine could be at higher risk of developing heart disease later in life. That's because they're more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. A simple blood test may help heart disease patients predict their risk of having a heart attack or stroke. California researchers found that high levels of a specific protein may exist in patients who have the greatest chance of experiencing heart problems. The information may help doctors determine whether further testing and treatment are necessary.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: All right. Stay where you are. When we come back, preventing cancer. This is a passion of mine. And there are steps you can take today to help reduce your risk of getting this deadly disease. We're going to tell you what they are when HOUSE CALL returns.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. This year, 1.3 million Americans will hear the dreaded diagnosis, cancer. Well, while treatments continue to improve, this is still a very, very virulent disease, which is why a recent poll finds 59 percent of those surveyed, almost 6 in 10, worry about getting cancer.

But here's a great strategy to prevent cancer. Don't worry. Instead, take action.


GUPTA (voice-over): Just how much control do we have over whether we get cancer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, I don't think I have much control. I just -- just hope I don't get it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think I have control.

GUPTA: A new poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society found more than a third of those surveyed, 36 percent, believe they have little or no control over reducing their risk of getting cancer.

Genes do play a role, but diet and lifestyle account for more than half the cases of cancer in this country. That's according to the American Cancer Society. That's more than 250,000 preventable cancer deaths every year.

Smoking, of course, is at the top of the list of cancer risks. And America's 45 million smokers are certainly raising their chances of getting many types of cancer.

Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise contribute to a third of cancer deaths. COLLEEN DOYLE, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Largely, many cancers are prevented through these healthy behaviors like not smoking, like getting exercise, like maintaining a healthy weight. And people really aren't aware that they do have some control over their cancer risk.

GUPTA: Doctors say Americans also need to do a better job of getting screened for cancer. Catch it early, and the chances of surviving the dreaded disease improves dramatically.

Dr. Jim Hotz, an expert on rural healthcare, says lack of insurance or transportation are two reasons people don't get screened. Human nature is another.

DR. JIM HOTZ, ALBANY AREA PRIMARY HEALTHCARE CENTER: It's kind of like a terrorist. You know, the fear that there's a cell that's become an alien within your body that can kill you. And people don't want to know about that. They want to put their head in the sand about it.

GUPTA: With cancer, knowledge can be a life saver.


GUPTA: And knowledge can be power as well. That's what I hope you're going to get when you watch my primetime special this weekend at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern. I teamed up with Lance Armstrong, hundreds of cancer survivors, and leading doctors to bring you to the front lines of the war on cancer.

Now during the show, I asked Lance how he gets people to care about this topic.


LANCE ARMSTRONG, CANCER SURVIVOR You build an army of people. I mean, you get a group of people that is hopefully to the tune of several million people that say this is our issue. This is what we care about. I was affected personally, or my mom or my sister or somebody that I love was affected.

And I'm not going to stand for what we see today, which is for the first time ever, a cut in the federal budget at the National Cancer Institute. Totally and completely unacceptable.

Meanwhile, listen, I understand there's a lot going on. Things are expensive. Money is tight. Everybody's fighting for money. But, boy, how about the disease that's quickly approaching the number one killer status in this country?


GUPTA: That's a great conversation. We're also going to have an amazing Web site. You need to see this. It includes inspiring stories of survival. Also, a state by state guide of cancer screening centers for you to access. Some of them are for free. Also, a call to action by Lance Armstrong himself. Make sure to click over and tune into the special.

And coming up this morning, need a checkup? Maybe trying to lose some weight or stop smoking? Just ask your company for help. No joke. I'm not kidding. We'll explain after the break.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. America's bad habits and bad health are costing their employers. Get this, obesity alone cost U.S. American companies $13 billion a year, mostly in health insurance. It also costs 39 million lost days of work.

Now as health costs continue to soar, some companies have decided to take your health into their own hands.


GUPTA (voice-over): Most women get screened for breast cancer in a medical clinic. But Virginia O'Neill 40 and healthy, kept putting it off.

VIRGINIA O'NEILL, BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR: There was an advertisement on top of the water cooler for getting mammograms at work.

GUPTA: It was so convenient, O'Neill booked it. The test found a tumor in her left breast. It was caught early, so her prognosis is good. Her employer, Pitney Bowes, is one of a growing number of companies worried about the health of its employees and the exploding cost of healthcare.

A study by the Partnership for Prevention shows reducing risk factors like smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure can save a company about $153 a year in medical costs per employee. And prevention programs pay off in other ways as well.

MICHAEL CRITTELLI, CEO, PITNEY BOWES: Healthy workers are better because they come to work more. They don't take as much time off. They are more focused when they are working. They don't make mistakes that are caused by being tired or sluggish.

GUPTA: Ralph Alberti took frequent smoke breaks at work to support his pack and a half a day habit. When he decided to quit, nurses at Pitney Bowes gave him free medicine to make it easier.

RALPH ALBERTI, FORMER SMOKER: They actually were my moral support. I would come in in the morning, and there would be a message on my answering machine reminding me to stop smoking.

GUPTA: And Pitney Bowes isn't alone.

GARRY LINDSAY, PARTNERSHIP FOR PREVENTION: Dow Chemical Company, Caterpillar, IBM, all -- probably most of the Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 companies have outstanding programs.

GUPTA: The government hopes by 2010, 75 percent of all companies will be offering similar programs to help their employees become healthier.


GUPTA: That sounds like a step in the right direction. You are watching HOUSE CALL on CNN. More after the break.


GUPTA: If you missed any part of today's show, you can go online and get free transcripts of any HOUSE CALL show at call.

Unfortunately, we're out of time for today. Tune in every weekday morning at 8:30 Eastern for another edition of HOUSE CALL. Also e-mail us your questions at Or visit us on the web at for all the medical news and information that you need.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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