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Finding a Cause for Autism; Dark Secret About Care for the Disabled; Recess for Adults

Aired August 4, 2007 - 08:30   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: A statement released by Murphy's publicist says he and Melanie Brown dated very briefly and he has paid child support to Brown, who's also known as Scary Spice.

HOLMES: Guess we don't have her picture here.

DE LA CRUZ: That's the new one.

HOLMES: That's his current love there.


HOLMES: But a petition was filed by Scary Spice on Thursday to legally establish Murphy...


HOLMES: the father of their daughter Angel.

DE LA CRUZ: All right. Check this out, T.J.

A woman in Maryland is accused of fudging the truth and taking the chocolate. Police say the woman claimed she'd been assaulted, but that turned out to be false.

HOLMES: Because while interviewing her about this alleged assault...

DE LA CRUZ: Right.

HOLMES: ...fudge started falling out of her pocket.

DE LA CRUZ: Busted.

HOLMES: An investigation underway. And surveillance video revealed a burglary at a nearby fudge shop. The woman has been arrested now.

DE LA CRUZ: Oh, she's a chocaholic. Leave her alone.

HOLMES: All right, I will leave her alone and move on to other things now.

CNN Saturday morning at 9:00 continues. We will certainly be all over the story of the bridge collapse there in Minneapolis. We'll take you back there live, where divers searching the murky water for victims of that bridge collapse.

DE LA CRUZ: And President Bush touring the damage. His observations, his comments also coming up a little later today.

HOLMES: But right now, we're going to get you to HOUSECALL with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSECALL. We're making the rounds this morning with some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.

First up, finding a cause for autism. Is there a pesticide link? What doctors are saying about a new study. And after a decades long search, a discovery that can often predict an often disabling disease.

And a brother's search for his missing sister turns up a dark secret about care for the disabled.

Finally, recess for adults. Companies are turning to playtime to get employees healthy and get them motivated.

First up, though, a recommendation on the widely used diabetes drug Avandia. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel says Avandia should stay on the market because its benefits outweigh the risks. But the panel says the packaging should carry a strong warning about an increased risk of heart disease. The FDA doesn't have to follow the panel's recommendations, but it usually does.

And almost one million plastic toys are being recalled by Fisher Price because of excessive amounts of lead in their paint. The preschool toys were made in China and include some of the most popular characters, like Big Bird and Elmo. The recall covers 83 types of toys sold between May and August. It's the latest in a string of recalls involving Chinese made products.

Also this week, another clue in the puzzle of what may cause autism. CNN's Mary Snow has more.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Health officials say it could provide hope in unraveling the mystery behind the rising cases of autism. The California Department of Public Health found pregnant women, who lived closest to fields where certain pesticides were used, had a greater risk of having a child with a neurological disorder.

MARK HORTON, DR., CALIFORNIA HEALTH DEPT.: Their likelihood of having a child with autism seemed to be six times what it would have been expected in the general population.

SNOW: Health officials caution, though, they can't make a definite link between pesticides and autism because the study was too small, but they say, with an estimated 1 in 150 children diagnosed with autism, the possibility of a link is worth exploring.

HORTON: We're at a very early stage. But once again, we have a substantive hypothesis on which to base further research.

SNOW: The pesticides in question are Organochlorine pesticides. They're used to control mice, particularly in cotton crops. Officials say their use has been dwindling in recent years. Some autism experts are taking note, even though the research is preliminary.

MARTHA HERBERT, DR., MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: Every time we get a little bit more information, we're groping less in the dark and we're getting a little bit more light at the end of the tunnel.

SNOW: And some experts say the final answer may reveal that there is a combination of factors leading to autism. Many experts point to genetics and the environment as a possible culprit. And they say with so many parents desperate for answers, there is no stone worth leaving unturned.

(on camera): Other factors that have been looked at as possible culprits include vaccinations, and exposure to chemicals and viruses. Some doctors say, though, they don't expect one smoking gun, so to speak, to be the cause of autism.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


GUPTA: All right, Mary, thank you.

And another medical mystery is the cause of multiple sclerosis. It's an unpredictable disease involving the nervous system and can leave the victims with just a little numbness or completely paralyzed. Now 30 years after the first MS gene was discovered, the researchers have identified two new genes they say increase a person's risk for disease by 30 percent. We spoke with one of the study's lead researchers, Dr. Jonathan Haines.


JONATHAN HAINES, DR., VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: This is a breakthrough. What we're really encouraged about is the fact that we've now been able to do, to identify this new gene, and that we are now being able to make a lot more progress toward understanding what causes MS. And genetics is one of the things that causes MS. And that now will allow us to understand much better and understand more quickly what is going on with MS and then be able to, again, develop treatments and better therapies for MS.


GUPTA: Now genetics is only one cause. In fact, most of the time, people don't get it from family history. They get it for reasons doctors don't still fully understand. Still, the National MS Society says the finding offers hope for the future.


JOHN RICHERT, DR., NATL. MS SOCIETY: The fact that the genes that have been identified in these studies are all involved in control of immune function helps point us in a direction that allows us to more directly study the basic causes of the disease, and therefore how to better treat the disease, and eventually how to prevent the disease.


GUPTA: And here's what you should know about multiple sclerosis. There are many different types. It strikes twice as many women as men with symptoms often beginning in the 20s, 30s, or 40s. And while many think MS condemns people to a wheelchair, the reality is many people with the disease do not become severely disabled. Symptoms vary greatly, person to person.

But here are some early signs to look for. Numbness or weakness in the limbs. Trouble with balance or an unsteady gait. Blurred or personal loss of vision. And tingling, like pins and needles. Now, if you experience any of these, you should, of course, see your doctor.

Now looking to the future one year from today, athletes, along with hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world will converge on Beijing, China, for the 2008 summer Olympics. But will the food, water, and healthcare be ready?

I've just returned from China, where I investigated how safe it will be for those Olympic travelers.


GUPTA: A series of health scares has put Chinese made products under international scrutiny. And with the 2008 Beijing Olympics rapidly approaching, the Chinese say they want to make their turn on the world stage a healthy one.

Everything, from the water supply to hospitals, are getting a makeover for the '08 games. That's according to the Chinese state news agency Shin-Wha. They're building more water treatment facilities, but advising visitors and athletes to avoid drinking tap water unless you're in the Olympic village.

Dengui fever, yellow fever, and other infectious diseases are more common in China. So they're working to get rid of the pests that carry them, like rats and mosquitoes. Hundreds of tons of meat, fish and veggies will be served during the games, so the government is stepping up food safety standards that have come under fire recently.

And China's boosting its healthcare system, renovating hospitals and adopting the American Heart Association standard of care.


GUPTA: In addition to that, China's prime minister is pushing for improved air quality before the 2008 games. Get this, according to the World Bank, China is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. And for a more in depth look at China's effort on food safety, check out my free podcast on i-Tunes or at You can also read more about my travels through China and the South Pacific on my blog at

Now we turn to what's been called a shameful chapter in America's past. CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen spent months following one man's journey to find his sister almost 50 years after she disappeared from his life.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All his life, Jeff Daly knew that when he was a little boy, he had a sister named Molly. He had hazy memories of playing with her, laughing with her, loving her.

JEFF DALY: I didn't really want to play with other people. I spent all of my time with her.

COHEN: But then one day, when Jeff was 6 and Molly was 2, someone took Molly away.

DALY: They kept just saying, where's Molly? Where's Molly? Where's Molly?

COHEN: And he got this answer.

DALY: Stop talking about Molly. Go to your room.

COHEN: The mystery of why Molly Jo Daly disappeared would eventually send Jeff searching through his family's darkest secrets and through a shameful chapter of American history.

Sue and Jack Daly were married in 1949 and set up house in the small seaside town of Astoria, Oregon. Jeff was a rising executive, Sue, a homemaker. Jeff was born in 1951.

DALY: The '50s was sort of the perfect mom. It was the "Leave It to Beaver." It was Betty Crocker. It was sort of like perfect little home life.

COHEN: His little sister Molly was born three years later.

DALY: And I'm sure that she wanted to have the perfect little boy and girl family.

COHEN: But something wasn't completely perfect about Molly. Molly was disabled. So just a few months after this picture was taken, she was gone.

DALY: Yes. At this point in time, they were already making arrangements for Molly to be sent away.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: Sent away, to somewhere no parent would want their child to experience, a place hundreds of thousands of mentally ill children ended up. Just ahead, Jeff goes on a search for his sister Molly after being almost 50 years of being separated.

And later, smoking this may damage your lung in some ways more than cigarettes. It's another reason to just say no.

Then companies try a new strategy to keep workers healthy. Recess. Just like when you were in school. We'll explain the science behind the trend.

But first, your everyday health tip.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. Before the break, we started to tell you the story of Jeff Daly. As a young boy, he spent hours playing with his disabled little sister Molly, until one day she disappeared. Elizabeth Cohen picks up the story now many years later.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeff grew up and became a successful TV photographer. He traveled the world, but could never completely fill that emptiness he'd felt since he was 6. Over time, Jeff learned that his parents had sent Molly away because she was disabled. He told his parents he wanted to see Molly, but he says they forbid it. So Jeff waited until 2004, when both of his parents had died. He learned from a relative that Molly had spent most of her life here.

DALY: First stop in the journey of a mentally retarded child. Mental retardation is often detected early in life.

COHEN: Molly Jo Daly had been warehoused at a state institution, just like tens of thousands of other disabled children across the country. It was called Fairview. As many as 40 children lived in one room, according to Oregon officials. Fairview patients were sometimes restrained in leather cuffs, isolated for long periods of time, and sterilized. Jeff discovered a film that the state had made about Fairview. In it, he spotted Molly, and he read her personal file.

DALY: I would read page after page where they said that Molly was kept in a straight jacket all day long, that she was restrained, that she was being medicated.

COHEN: He noticed how much worse she looked every year.

DALY: Molly and other folks would sometimes - they would throw themselves to the floor and they would bang their heads on the pavement, or they would break windows and cut themselves because what that meant was somebody would take care of them. They would have a nurse that would bandage them up, or they'd get to go see a doctor.

COHEN: So how could Jeff's parents send their own daughter here when she was only 2? Bill Lynch, executive director of the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities, says it's hard for us today to understand what it was like 50 years ago.

BILL LYNCH, OREGON COUNCIL DEV. DISABILITIES: The doctor would say that it would be better for you, it would be better for your child, it would be better for your other children if you simply turned your child over to the state for institutionalization.

COHEN: And many parents obliged, especially since there were few public school programs available back then for children with disabilities. There was a lot of shame at that time in having a disabled child.

DALY: It was shame. It was a part of society. It was how you were looked at by your friends.

COHEN: After a series of lawsuits, the state closed Fairview in 2000. Two years later, the governor apologized for what he called the "great wrong done to helpless citizens entrusted to the care of the state of Oregon." After Fairview closed, its residents were scattered all around the state of Oregon, making them difficult to find. But Jeff was lucky. His father kept meticulous records.

DALY: I found a file in my dad's filing cabinet that was buried away back in the closet. And we found a file that said "Molly."

COHEN: Inside, a phone number.

DALY: And I was able to hear the person on the other line say that Molly Daly is sitting right across from me.

COHEN: After nearly 50 years apart, Jeff found his Molly. They were reunited as brother and sister. Jeff was relieved to find that she lives in a group home, where she's loved and well cared for. Jeff was lucky to have his father's records to guide him, but it's a lot harder for other families. Jeff was inspired to help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is. Hi, Molly.

COHEN: So in 2005, Jeff, his wife Cindy, and Molly went to the Oregon capitol. And with Molly by his side, Jeff testified to the legislature to make it easier to access records so other brothers and sisters can reunite. It's called Molly's Law. And it's become a model across the country.

DALY: Old Macdonald had a farm.

COHEN: He and his sister are making up for lost time. He visits often and has become her legal guardian. Is this better than a walk?

Playing together like they did 50 years ago. Molly now has a family.

DALY: Whee!

COHEN: And Jeff has his sister back. DALY: We can go higher!

COHEN: Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Seaside, Oregon.


GUPTA: Wow, a remarkable story. And Elizabeth tells us that Jeff Daly has made a documentary out of his experience as well, "Trying to Find Molly." You can find a link to his work, also see a time line of those state institutions at You can also read Elizabeth Cohen's story and discover how others can find family members, who were institutionalized.

Just ahead on HOUSECALL, what's worse for your lungs than lighting up a cigarette? Find out, just ahead.

Then some companies are swapping keyboards for hula hoops with healthy benefits. All that's coming up on HOUSECALL.


GUPTA: Smoking this could mean more damage to your lungs at least according to researchers in New Zealand. They released a study suggesting smoking one marijuana cigarette could do as much damage to your lungs as smoking five regular cigarettes. Some long-term marijuana smokers could develop symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, lung inflammation, and airway obstruction. However, cigarette smokers are more likely to develop emphysema or lung cancer.

Now let's check in with Judy Fortin. She's here with this week's medical headlines. Judy?

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Sanjay. Military deployment increases the risk of parental stress and child abuse in some enlisted families. A recent study of more than 1,700 military families that have a history of child maltreatment finds children are 42 percent more likely to experience neglect and physical and emotional abuse when enlisted parents are deployed. Officers suggest more support services will help caregivers cope with long deployments.

Women with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, suffer more than men. A study by the American Thoracic Society finds women experience more breathlessness, reduced lung function, and decreased exercise capacity, as well as poor overall mental health when compared to men.

COPD is a condition diagnosed more frequently in women, which obstructs air flow and interferes with breathing. It's the fourth leading cause of death in America.

The mortality gap between rich and poor children is widening, a trend researchers feel will lead to more demands on the healthcare system in the future. When compared to the rich, America's poorest children are 52 percent more likely to die from birth defects, unintentional injury, and homicide. This is despite consistent decreases in child mortality overall. Sanjay, back to you. GUPTA: Thanks, Judy. Some disturbing numbers there for sure.

Stay where you are at home. More HOUSECALL's coming up. Broom races, riding scooters, guessing games -- doesn't sound like work for most of us. And now some companies are bringing play into the workplace. Find out why, just ahead.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. It's the new buzz word in business and can even improve your health. Today's fit nation, we investigate a new health trend that employees can really get into.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pop all the balloons. Pop all the balloons.

SANJAY GUPTA (voice-over): Balloon races, broom races, and guessing games. Sounds more like summer camp than a meeting at ING Direct, an online financial services company. The reason, happier, more productive employees.

JOY ZABEN, ING DIRECT: We think about our employees as more than just in their work environment. Their entire -- their stress level, their health. I mean, this got them up and moving around.

GUPTA: Many corporations want employees to step away from their cubicles and enjoy themselves. One way is to make them laugh. David Raymond organizes seminars on workplace fun. He says it creates camaraderie and keeps workers active.

DAVID RAYMOND, THE FUN DEPARTMENT: We want to make sure it's appropriate and easy for everybody to participate, but we also want some of the things to be physically challenging.

GUPTA: Employees feel more energetic.

CORRINE LASTER, HAPPY EMPLOYEE: Having fun activities allows you to have a better frame of mind when you're working.

GUPTA: And there could be real health benefits as well. Research shows laughter can help blood flow, preventing diseases such as hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and strokes.

MIKE MILLER, DR., UNIV. OF MD. MEDICAL CTR.: When we have a good laugh or we feel very relaxed, it, in a way, helps us to rejuvenate.

GUPTA: It also reduces stress, shown to be a primary factor when it comes to weight gain and heart problems. Other ways to encourage happy workers, well, Google provides activities like volleyball and scooters on the job. Other companies even allow pets in the office, all aimed at keeping employees relaxed and more productive.


GUPTA: All right. Well, caffeine, exercise, and skin cancer. Coming up, a new study finds some unusual links.


GUPTA: A new study out this week suggests an unusual way to prevent skin cancer. Researchers say moderate caffeine intake and exercise combined together help destroy precancerous skin cells caused by the sun. Now this in no way means that you should stop using sunscreen.

And here's a big footnote. The study was done just on mice. So there's much more research need to see how this was going to work in people.

Thanks for watching HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Have a good day. Make sure you tune in next weekend for another edition of HOUSECALL. E-mail us your questions at Remember, this is the place for the answers to all your medical questions. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.