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Having Health Insurance Doesn't Mean You're Safe; On the Sidelines for the Super Bowl; Your Heart and Your Weight; Should You Be Taking Multivitamins?

Aired February 2, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to HOUSE CALL, coming to you from the site of this week's Democratic presidential debate in California. We've got a big show on tap this morning.
First up, just because you have health insurance doesn't mean you're safe. We have one couple's story.

And a West Point football player is now a casualty of war. Find out why he'll be on the sidelines for the Super Bowl.

Plus, your heart and your weight. How one man lost 187 pounds after a scare.

Finally, you really need to be taking that multivitamin this morning. Find out ahead on HOUSE CALL.

But first, we're in California. It's a state where health care is front and center. Just this week, what would have been the largest health care overhaul by any state was rejected by politicians who cited a critical shortage of cash. If enacted, about 70 percent of the uninsured in California would have been covered.

Now, the uninsured aren't the only ones struggling in today's system. If you think having insurance will solve all your problems, wait until you see what happened to this family.




GUPTA (voice-over): Dawn and William Zeigler were living the quintessential American dream as real estate brokers in Las Vegas. Plenty of money, nice houses, fancy cars. And then Dawn got pregnant with twin girls.

WILLIAM ZEIGLER, FATHER: I was excited. I was excited when he found out it was twins. And then I was nervous.

GUPTA: But Brooke and Alexa arrived early, too early. And little baby Brooke was in serious trouble.

D. ZEIGLER: When she came out, she was blue.

W. ZEIGLER: And they had to resuscitate her. We didn't know that we'd have to have surgery with -- you know, within 10 hours.

GUPTA: And then another surgery, and then another. Over the next 18 months, she had nine operations, including two open heart surgeries. She was air lifted to hospitals in California, then Indiana. The Zeiglers never thought about the cost because they had insurance, excellent health insurance.

Did you worry about it at all?

D. ZEIGLER: Not at all.

GUPTA: And yet today, this well to do couple is now broke and filing for bankruptcy. Insurance paid for a while. But there was a lifetime limit of $2 million for Brooke's expenses. That may sound like a lot. But it was nowhere near enough.

W. ZEIGLER: Especially when some days, it was $30,000 and $40,000 a day to keep her in the ICU. You know, the days of the operation, they were $100,000 days. In the end, it cost us everything. We're lucky to still have a house and our cars. But that's about it.

GUPTA: But that was wasn't the worst of it. After months in intensive care, Brooke's heart finally gave out. Brooke Zeigler was just 18 months old when she died. A year later, a bill arrived in the form of a legal judgment.

You owe Riley Hospital $700,000?

W. ZEIGLER: $700,000 (INAUDIBLE) for unpaid medical expense.


GUPTA: Now the Zeiglers aren't alone. Almost a million people filed for bankruptcy in 2006. That's according to a Harvard study. Almost half of those can be at least be blamed in part on medical bills. For more about the Zeiglers and the search for solutions, watch my special. It's called "Broken Government, Critical Condition." We're looking at what can be done to fix the health care system in this country. Tune in Sunday at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. And check out the Web site as well for tips on working with your insurance company,

What are considered mild injuries during war may be leading a mark on U.S. troops returning from Iraq. New research indicates soldiers who suffered a concussion and lost consciousness were more likely to report poor general health, missed work days, and medical visits.

And get this, 40 percent of those troops also met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Study authors are quick to point out that PTSD, not the concussions, may be causing some of these other health problems. They recommend better screening and treatment of concussive injuries in U.S. troops.

And now let's hear a story you may not hear this week in the media frenzy of the Super Bowl. A wounded warrior and a former West Point football player who has become an inspiration to one of the teams playing this weekend.

Barbara Starr has the story.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Gadson commanded hundreds of troops in Iraq, but his time in the war zone ended the day he was coming back from a memorial service for some of his soldiers.

LT. COL. GREGORY GADSON, U.S. ARMY: I remember a boom, a muffled boom. And -- but I knew exactly what happened to me. I mean, and it was sort of a -- I couldn't believe, I kind of -- one of the first things I said to myself is that I can't believe this just happened to us.

STARR: It was an IED.

GADSON: I just said God, I don't want to die in this country. And then that's sort of the last thing I kind of remember as I was laying out on the ground.

STARR: Gadson's lower body took the brunt of explosion.

GADSON: When I arrived here, I had both my legs. My legs were still on and intact.

STARR: The same legs that helped make him a football star at West Point. He's number 98. But medical complications set in. And this Army officer had to make a decision few of us could even begin to imagine.



GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. Before the break, we met with Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Gadson, former West Point football player, who returned from Iraq with two severely injured legs. Barbara Starr picked up the story now with a life altering decision.


STARR: Lieutenant Colonel Greg Gadson made a difficult choice after being wounded in Iraq. Gadson told his doctors to amputate both his legs. He hoped prosthetics would let him walk again. Some days Gadson confronts the darkest feelings.

GADSON: To me the bad days, they're just, you know, you're just -- it's like you've been swallowed by a blanket and you just can't pick yourself up emotionally. I mean, it's just like you've just been beat down and you just can't hold your head up. I know, I mean there was one day I think I cried for about 24 hours. STARR: A long time fan of the New York Giants, he was a guest of the team early this year when they turned their season around with a come from behind victory over the Washington Redskins. And he was on the field two weeks ago for the coin flip as an honorary co-captain during the NFC championship game. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said Gadson is an inspiration. Gadson says he gets inspiration from the younger wounded troops around him and insists he's no hero.

GADSON: I don't feel like a hero. I mean, I feel like I was doing my job and the real heroes, I think, are the ones that don't make it back.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, Walter Reed Army Medical Center.


GUPTA: And Barbara tells us that Lieutenant Colonel Gadson now has the use of some high tech prosthetic legs. He and Marine Lance Corporal Josh Bleill are using prosthetics powered by Bluetooth technology. Bleill, shown here, says the legs allow him to walk for longer periods of time without tiring.


LANCE CPL. JOSH BLEILL, U.S. MARINE CORPS: After one or two steps, it recognizes that it's starting to walk. And so these legs start moving on their own. And then they mimic each other so -- for stride length, for amount of force coming up, going uphill, downhill, and such. They can vary speed. And then to stop them again, I will put resistance with my own thigh muscles to slow them down so I can stop walking, which is always nice.


GUPTA: Bleill says his plan for the future is to live a normal life and pay back the people who are helping him. Good luck. I'm betting both men will be among the more than 90 million viewers tuning into the Super Bowl this weekend.

Intense games can really get the adrenalin rushing. But could all that excitement actually be bad for your heart? A new study show men watching stressful sporting events, particularly those men with heart disease, double the risk of having a heart attack. Doctors say fans with known heart problems may want to limit exposure to stressful events that could trigger a heart attack.

More on keeping your heart healthy just 60 seconds away.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. And February, as you may know, is National Heart Month. It's always a good time to remind people that heart disease is the biggest killer of men and women in the country. In here California, they actually rank slightly above the national average in terms of heart disease. That may surprise some people. They also across this country spend billions of dollars on medications to try and unclog those arteries.

But as Judy Fortin reports, a simple step just your menu can make a big difference.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Phil Massey's total cholesterol is 143, well within the American Heart Association guidelines. But he's had to work at it.

PHIL MASSEY, CHOLESTEROL PATIENT: I haven't had a pizza in God knows how long.

FORTIN: He spends more time exercising and has eliminated saturated fat from his diet. Dr. William Castelli says cutting out fat and refined carbohydrates can make a big difference in lowering bad cholesterol or LDL.

WILLIAM CASTELLI, DR., FRAMINGHAM CARDIOVASCULAR INST.: We did all these trials. And the better we took that out of your diet, the bigger the fall in cholesterol. And the bigger the fall in cholesterol, the bigger the fall in the heart attack rate.

FORTIN: But just lowering bad cholesterol is not enough. Studies show increasing good cholesterol or HDL is just as important. Fats from foods like oatmeal or nuts are considered good because they don't cling to artery walls. Instead, they carry cholesterol to the liver, where it can be purged out of the body.

On the other hand, LDL is bad because it does cling to artery walls, making them thicker and increasing the risk of heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends total cholesterol levels measure below 200, but a third of Americans are borderline high risk, with numbers between 200 and 239.

CASTELLI: We need to change your number game so that you can get rid of this disease.

FORTIN: Phil eats well and works out, but taking cholesterol lowering medicine has also helped.

MASSEY: My numbers dropped like a rock. Boom. And they've been down ever since.

FORTIN: What started as a simple blood test to check his cholesterol has turned into a new way of life.

Judy Fortin, CNN.


GUPTA: All right, thanks Judy. Knowledge is power, as we know, when it comes to your health. And this past Friday was all about creating that knowledge.

Across the country, people celebrated national Wear Red Day, raising awareness of heart disease and stroke in women. Even though more women than men die of stroke in the United States, studies show many women never have a cholesterol test. And experts say women's heart disease is often misdiagnosed. So whether you're a man or a woman, prevention pays. Staying active, eating healthy, and getting screened regularly can make all the difference.

Have you ever had a scare that completely changed your life? Today, we give you the story of Phil Novak in our Fit Nation segment. He was on an incredible journey where he lost 200 pounds, became healthy, and probably saved his own life. Take a look.


GUPTA (voice-over): Just a few years ago, Phil Novak weighed in a 387 pounds. He was not happy with his weight, but it wasn't until he and a buddy went to a Steelers game that reality hit home.

PHILL NOVAK, I-REPORTER: We were walking back up to our seats. And I started getting winded and didn't feel right and just started sweating. And you know, I didn't think I would make it back up. We got up there and my heart's beating a million times a minute. I'm like wow, what's going on? I thought I was having a heart attack.

GUPTA: Luckily, it was not a heart attack. He was just badly out of shape. But Phil says it was just as scary.

NOVAK: A lot of things went through my head. Not saying goodbye to my kids and stuff like that.

GUPTA: That day, Phil started his journey to weight loss.

NOVAK: I walked off my first 100 pounds. Walked it off. I gave it an hour a day and I lost 100 pounds. Seven months.

GUPTA: Now 192 pounds lighter, Phil says his keys to success are a low carb diet, a lot of exercise, and a lot of determination.

NOVAK: I feel like I'm a young guy. People always come up to me and they say, wow, you look good. And I go, I feel a million times better than I look.

GUPTA: So would he ever allow himself to get that heavy again?

NOVAK: No way. I'll never go back. I feel too good to do that. You know, there's no way. My name's Phil Novak and I lost 192 pounds.


GUPTA: Check out Phil's incredible weight loss journey on our Web site, We also want you to share your own weight loss success story. Send us an i-Report. It may end up being profiled.

Just ahead, your aging parents may live miles apart. We have some tips on better communication. And also, how much is your stressed out lifestyle affecting your heart? More importantly, what can you do about it? We've got a segment you simply can't miss. Stay with us.


GUPTA: It's a problem facing millions of baby boomers. How to care for your aging parents when they live hundreds, even thousands of miles apart. Elizabeth Cohen is here with this week's "Empowered Patient," giving some practical tips on when distance makes it so hard.


FLORA HARRIS: Is that the program you want?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When Flora Harris had a heart attack in her home near Los Angeles, her husband couldn't really help her. He has Alzheimer's disease. And their child, Patricia, lived nearly 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.

PATRICIA HARRIS, DR., GERIATRICIAN: I had to race to get to see my mother.

COHEN: Even racing, it was a long trip. She agonized every minute along the way about her mother, who's 84 and her father James, 91.

HARRIS: It took ten, 15 hours to get to my parents.

COHEN: Trishia Harris now flies to L.A. every other month to help take care of her ailing parents. Harris knows she's not alone. She's a doctor who specializes in taking care of elderly patients. She sees countless families who face the struggles of caring from afar.

HARRIS: This is the first time in history that we've had so many older people. And the numbers look worse and worse every time you look at it. You can do four and five.

COHEN: So along with millions of others, Harris tries to face the heart wrenching task as best she can.

HARRIS: There's no good answer.


GUPTA: Elizabeth, this is obviously a very difficult situation and affects a lot of people. So what can they do?

COHEN: You know what, Sanjay, as we just saw on that story, this is difficult even for geriatricians dealing with their own parents from far away. So in this week's "empowered patient," we do have some tips for what to do. We have five pointers.

Let's go over two of them right now. First of all, you have to build a network. Find out who your parents friends and neighbors, who they would rely on in case of emergency before you could arrive. Your parents need to have those phone numbers and so do you. Second of all, try to find an e-mail friendly doctor. With your parents permission, the doctor can send you e-mailed updates about what happened during an office visit, or how your parents' health is doing. And that way, you can keep up much more effectively.

GUPTA: All right, thanks, Elizabeth. And to find some more tips on making long distance care easier by checking out Elizabeth's column at

Now are you taking charge of your health or just wasting money on that daily vitamin. Are they really necessary? I'll tell you. That's coming up on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. You know, millions of Americans take them every day. Multi vitamins. But you may be surprised to know there's virtually no research showing they make you any healthier, any better. I actually in full disclosure do take some, but you could say that it's a leap of faith.

On, you voted to learn more about vitamins and if they're really necessary. So we interviewed Dr. Jeff Bloomberg. He's director of antioxidants research at Tufts University.


JEFFREY BLUMBERG, TUFT'S UNIVERSITY: We find lots of people are dietary optimists. They think they're eating quite well and quite healthfully. But in fact, they're not.

We find most of the antioxidants in our diet in plant foods, fruits, vegetable, whole grains, nuts. And there we see not only some of the essential anti-oxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E but Mother Nature offers an enormous array of anti-oxidants. We get lots of these antioxidants from the plant foods that we eat.

Look, if you're very careful about choosing foods, you can get a diverse array of antioxidants. But whether you're getting enough to really promote your health as you age, we're not sure. There are all sorts of complications. As people grow older, they oftentimes don't eat as well. Sometimes they have trouble eating as much food as they need in order to get the amount of these antioxidants in their diet. And so there are other options. You can choose foods that are fortified with these nutrients or you can take supplements.

Most everyone can benefit from taking a simple multivitamin, multimineral because we know that the diets of most people aren't meeting the recommended allowance for these essential nutrients. Anything at a high enough dose can be dangerous. And that applies not only to drugs, but herbs and nutrients as well. We know that there are upper levels of safety for almost every nutrient, so you certainly can go overboard.


GUPTA: Coming up, stress and your health. How to keep your heart healthy when you reach your boiling point.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. You know, more than half of working adults say they are concerned about their stress. Two-thirds of them say they actually need help. Some thrive on stress, others simply get burned out. So we invited Dr. Mark Crawford to come back and tell us how he diagnoses stress, and more importantly how to prevent it.


MARK CRAWFORD, PSYCHOLOGIST: Stress is an interesting thing because everybody responds differently to stress. And what one person thinks is stressful another may not. But common stress includes things like financial pressures or worry, interpersonal conflicts, which can be marital or family arguments and disagreements. Commuting actually is a big stress, especially in cities where there's a lot of traffic. Overscheduling is another big area of stress as well.

Each person seems to have a physical symptom that is their red light on the dashboard and says I'm under stress. Examples can include trouble sleeping. Sometimes people just can't sleep. And that means stress.

For some people, it's eating and digestive problems. They have trouble with just digesting food, or they lose their appetite. For some people, it's irritability. For others, it may be headaches. And for some people, it's chronic muscle pain or spasms or tightness, either around the neck or around the chest.

So the important thing is to be aware of your body and how it tells you you're under stress. For people who are exposed to chronic stress that they can't just change or wait 'til it goes away, there are some things to do to help you cope more effectively.

The first is make sure you're getting adequate sleep. Because when you're sleep deprived, everything is more difficult to cope with. Second, regular exercise is a great stress reducer. Third I would say avoid excessive caffeine or stimulants that actually mimic the body's flight or fight response. The fourth one is to get connected. There's a lot of research that shows that people who have a support network actually do better at coping with stress. So have people in your life that you're sharing it with.

And surprisingly, the next one is learn how to forgive, because when you carry around grudges and anger, it's very stressful. And forgiveness is a great antidote to that.


GUPTA: All right, thanks, doctor. Some great tips there. And Dr. Crawford also recommends learning how your own body handles stress and then respecting it limits. Of course, everyone is a little bit different. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks for watching. Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay now tuned now for more news on CNN.