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House Call

Aired August 24, 2008 - 08:30   ET


Today we're going to help you live longer and stronger. So let's get started.

First up, I visited a school that could also be a health hazard for kids -- that's right, a school. Thirty years after Love Canal, there are schools still being built on toxic waste sites. If you have kids, you're going to have to watch this.

And a case of shaken baby syndrome -- what really happens. I'll tell you. A family in grief, a father is charged and the police are looking for answers.

Then, is your doctor's office peddling high priced medications that you don't really need?

Medical marketing -- it's everywhere and you are paying for it.

Finally, golf superstar Tiger Woods says he doesn't know when he's going to golf again.

What happened to his knee?

What about his future?

First, though, I visited a school in Massachusetts that absolutely shocked me. It's something you don't think of as you buy school supplies for the start of the year -- thousands of children are going to schools close to -- even on top of -- toxic dumps.


GUPTA (voice-over): New Bedford -- a centuries old city on the Massachusetts coast.

It has a rich history. It was once the biggest whaling port in the world. Here, as elsewhere, people send children to school in what they hope is a safe and nurturing environment. And schoolchildren and teachers may be facing dangers they can't see -- from the air and grounds of New Bedford High.

It opened in 1972, the campus on top of what was a dump -- a burn site for PCBs -- an industrial chemical linked to cancer and permanent brain damage.

Lois Gibbs runs the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Her non-profit studied four states -- Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Michigan -- and found half a million schoolchildren -- half a million attending schools within half a mile of toxic dumps.

Some schools, like New Bedford High, located directly on top of them.

LOIS GIBBS, DIRECTOR, CENTER HEALTH, ENVIRONMENT & JUSTICE: You could go to sites all across this country -- to states all across this country and find these sites.

GUPTA: What's more, only seven states have any law preventing cities and towns from putting schools on or near toxic waste sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Considering three decades of...

GUPTA: So I sat down with current and former employees of New Bedford High.

SUSAN DIAS, FORMER TEACHER: Like a lot of teachers that are there now, I figured how bad can it be?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.

MARIA QUANN, FORMER TEACHER: I became very, very sick. My immune system shut down.

GUPTA (on camera): Do you believe working in the school made you sick?

QUANN: I really do.

MAUREEN WOOLLEY, FORMER CAFETERIA WORKER: We've got a list of over 25 names that have passed away from cancer.

GUPTA: Do you think it's dangerous?

DAVID GREENE, NEW BEDFORD HIGH TEACHER: I do think it's dangerous. I do think there are areas of that school that continue to be dangerous.

Mayor Scott Lang, New Bedford, Massachusetts: That school is our flagship. We want it -- we want it to last.

GUPTA: Since he was elected two years ago, New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang has ordered the high school scrubbed, an entirely new ventilation system installed.

LANG: See, I wouldn't have the kids in the school if I didn't think it was safe. If I didn't think it was safe, I would have closed the schools.

GUPTA: Three rooms have been closed because of high PCB levels. The state is now doing a study to see how death rates among teachers and students at New Bedford High CNN's compare to the national average. We did not hear any reports of children currently attending New Bedford High becoming sick. But remember, PCBs accumulate in the body over a lifetime.

(on camera): Is that a concern?

SUZANNE CONDON, MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Any time -- particularly when it relates to children -- that people are at risk of exposure to environmental agents, then concern is appear. I think what our job is right now is to help them to measure what that level of concern should be.

GUPTA (voice-over): The state health department plans to test blood PCB levels of long-time teachers, like Dave Green. He and others will learn this spring how badly they've been hurt by this toxic legacy.


GUPTA: Now the state's chef of environmental health says it's normal to find PCBs in people's blood. But New Bedford residents are likely to have higher levels because there are a number of contaminated sites all over the city. Shelton said finding a direct cause and effort is very, very difficult, especially when you've seen the studies.

So we're going to stay on top of the story and bring you updates as they develop.

Here's a question -- how safe is your food?

Consumers and government have been asking this frequently over the last two years, especially with E. (ph) coli and salmonella outbreaks sickening thousands.

So here's a new development. On Friday, the government began allowing food producers to zap, if you will, fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce with enough radiation to help kill E. (ph) coli and other germs.

Now, irradiating has been used for meat for years. But up until now, the FDA did not allow it for fresh produce.

And we already know all hospitals are not created equal.

But if you're having a heart attack, do you know what hospital has the best survival rates?

Probably not, because specific numbers have never been available -- until now. This week, the government released estimates for heart attack and pneumonia death rates for every United States hospital over the last two years. And if you want, you can compare specific procedures and care by going to

Coming up next, something every new parent needs to be aware of -- how one moment of stress or anger could be deadly for your baby. Plus, details on the simple technique experts say could save precious split seconds and they called the difference on the track during this year's Olympic Games.

Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: You're watching HOUSE CALL.

Tiger's recovery -- doctors say he's still not out of the woods.

So when is he going to swing a golf club again?

We'll have details later in the show.

Plus, it could mean the difference between silver or gold -- how much does the right side of your brain versus the left side control your speed?

You're going to be surprised at what I found out.

Up next, though, this baby -- her life cut short by something that's happening all too often in this country. It's a sad story and we're going to have it in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL.

Check out some of this week's most viewed stories on our health page.

About a hundred college presidents are recommending dropping the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. Their aim -- reduce binge drinking on campus. But critics argue lowering the age would increase drunken driving deaths.

Also, a new survey reveals many Americans -- more than 50 percent -- believe intervention by God can save a loved one even if a doctor declares treatment hopeless.

And a new study suggests your tap water could put you at risk of Type 2 Diabetes if it contains low levels of as arsenic.

Read about all these stories at

A father accused of killing his own baby -- shaking her to death. It's not that uncommon. Shaken Baby Syndrome is a problem so widespread, many states are being forced to address the issue. And you'd be surprised at who doctors say is the biggest threat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're looking at a home in peaceful Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, which was irrevocably changed this past March. That's when Crystal Wilson returned home and found her two-and-a-half-month-old baby Camryn unresponsive.

Camryn was rushed to a hospital, but died two weeks later.

The cause -- severe bleeding and damage to the brain and retinas. Doctors say the baby was shaken violently, better known as Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Camryn's father, Craig Wilson, who was caring for the child at the time, was charged with murder and other related charges. Now, Wilson has pleaded not guilty. He admits to shaking Camryn, but not to kill him.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, more than 1,400 babies are injured by shaking every year. About 300 of them will die. Others suffer permanent disabilities.

You see, a baby's neck muscles aren't strong enough to resist the motion of violent shaking. When that happens, the brain rattles around inside the skull, causing bleeding and tearing of brain tissue in the protective membranes. The baby's retinas can be destroyed, causing blindness.

The syndrome has become so widespread in the United States, many states are forming task forces to alert parents to the problem.

GUPTA: In many maternity wards in Ohio, a mother must sign a form promising she understands the dangers of shaking an infant. But some doctors say fathers should also sign, because many new dads don't know how to handle little ones.

DR. R. DARYL STEINER, AKRON CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: A young infant comes into the lives of an adult, of a mother or a father, and suddenly they have the stress of raising that child that they've never had before. And, of course, a baby doesn't come with an operator's manual.

GUPTA: Wilson's lawyer, John Sinn, says although the father admitted to shaking the child, he never meant to hurt his son.

JOHN SINN, WILSON'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This was a young father who was overwhelmed and overstressed, but acted in a spur of the moment and made some decisions out of frustration that obviously cost his son his life and will affect the rest of his life.

GUPTA: Since Camryn's death, CNN has obtained a copy of the baby's autopsy records. According to the medical examiner's report, besides the bleeding, the baby had more than 20 rib fractures -- some of which were older than others. Wilson's attorney says that needs to be taken into account.

SINN: If that autopsy is accurate, if this child has been severely injured to the point that his ribs were fractured on prior occasions, multiple occasions, how come no one knew that?

GUPTA: Police say the case is closed and they don't expect any more arrests. The judge wants the issue of the fractures to be resolved before Wilson's murder trial in September in Akron, Ohio.


GUPTA: Do you have thoughts on that story?

Well, I have some and I'd love to hear yours, as well, on my blog, at

Now, it could mean the difference between silver and gold. A study that says athletes who train their brains can save precious split seconds. We can all learn something here.

And Tiger Woods -- will his famous swing survive his knee surgery?

Stay with HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL.

Tiger Woods, the world's number one golf player, is recovering from knee surgery. And now he's saying he's not going to be able to swing a golf club until next year.

Should we be worried about his comeback?

Well, we sat down and talked to some experts about his future.



GUPTA (voice-over): A Tiger Woods championship swing is anything but typical. He's forceful with the right arm while his left leg stays perfectly straight. His knee pivots with every hit. And that puts a lot of wear and tear on his left knee.

Since 1994, Woods has had several operations. The most aggressive procedure was also the most recent -- on June 24th, to repair the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

(on camera): And during that operation, what doctors did was they removed that old anterior cruciate ligament -- the one that was damaged. Then they drilled a hole in the top, above the knee, and another hole in the bone below the knee. And then you take a ligament from the front of the knee cap or a cadaver ligament and you tunnel that ligament from the bottom to the top. And what that does is serve to stabilize the knee again.

(voice-over): But post-op, Woods' golfing fate is uncertain. He tells fans via his blog, "I don't know what the doctors are going to tell me about playing golf down the road."

He says he's not planning on even swinging a club until at least next year.

So why the long recovery? Some speculate Woods had more damage to the knee than we know of, resulting in a longer healing time. But, also, there's the fear of re-damaging the knee.

Orthopedic surgeon and doctor to the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, Dr. Michael Bernot explains...

DR. MICHAEL BERNOT, AMER. ACADEMY OF ORTHOPEDIC SURGEONS: Once he starts swinging, he's not going to have -- he's not going to be able to control the force on that leg. He's just going to have to swing without thinking about it. So, he could re-tear the graft and then he could be right back where he started.

GUPTA: But Woods says he is making progress in rehab. He's starting to ride a stationary bike several times a day.

BERNOT: Most pro athletes are going to be careful not to risk coming back too soon because there's too much on the line. Because he doesn't want to have to limit how he swings.

GUPTA: And neither do his fans.


GUPTA: Now, ACL ruptures are fairly common among athletes, but fairly rare among golfers. That swing is really putting all that pressure on his knee. And the experts that we talked to say he may have to change his swing in order to take some of that torque off of his knee.

Stay tuned. There's a lot more to come on Tiger Woods.

Now, starting off on the right foot -- literally, the right foot. As the spotlight turns to track and field at the Olympic Games, a new study offers a tip that might make all the difference.

A shot of adrenaline for any competitive runner -- months and months of training, all for this moment. Sure, they run, they do drills, strength train.

But should they be training their brain, as well?

DR. AMADEUS MASON, EMORY SPORTS MEDICINE: Just as bodies are designed better to run or to swim, their brains being better or more reactive or having a better reaction time would be, definitely.

GUPTA: Consider this -- according to a small study, starting with the right foot back may make a difference -- a small one, but in the world of competitive running, perhaps enough to be the difference between winning and losing.

It's all about how your brain works. The left side of your brain controls the right side of your body. But it's also slightly better at executing the movement in the first place -- getting someone off the blocks just a little bit faster.

But Emory sports medicine expert, Dr. Amadeus Mason, says that's only part of the equation.

MASON: Being comfortable in the blocks would probably be more important than getting power out of the blocks -- more important to your overall start. GUPTA (on camera): I'm right-handed. I'm not a competitive runner, but I like to run.

What would you tell me?

MASON: I would say, first off, be comfortable. If you're comfortable in a start with your left foot forward, great. If you're more comfortable with the right foot forward, do that, because I think comfort would trump that millimeter of a second that you'll get, because you'll get that back with your stability and how fast you're going to be transitioning into full sprinting.

He is carrying himself very well. He's standing straight up. That conserves his energy. He's carrying his arms close to his body and bent. That also is conserving energy. But his stride is not as long or even as it should be.

GUPTA (voice-over): The bottom line, says Dr. Mason, good form, good strength and a sharply tuned brain.


GUPTA: And here's an interesting note. This year's Olympic sprinting champion, Usain Bolt, did start with his right food back in the blocks. Dr. Mason is convinced it was his speed during the race that won him the Olympic gold, not his start.

Now, do darker skinned people have the same risk of skin cancer as people with paler skin tones?

It's a hot topic.

I'm going to have some advice for you in the Ask the Doctor segment, which is later in the show.

Plus, are you a victim of medical marketing?

Would you even know if you were?

We'll have that scoop in our Empower Patient, up next.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: But I can tell you, drug and medical device companies spend lots of money trying to get doctor's offices to use their products. So when your health care provider chooses a drug for you, is it really because it's the best option?

Well, in this week's Empowered Patient, Elizabeth Cohen has some tips to avoid being a victim of medical marketing.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, several studies have shown that doctors are, indeed, swayed by marketing from industry, whether the doctors are aware of it or not.

I want to tell you about a woman, Sanjay, named Linda Lewis. Linda had terrible lower back pain. She went to a surgeon, who recommended a certain artificial disk. She got the surgery and boy was she sorry. It did not work out for her at all. She was in terrible pain and had to have a second procedure to correct the first.

When she found out that doctor received money from that artificial disc company, she was livid.

Sanjay, we called that surgeon and his office says that he is not available for comment.

But many experts debate how much are doctors swayed by industry. Again, there are studies that shows that it happens.

If you're worried about this, here are some tips. First of all, when you're in a doctor's office, look for signs that drug company reps have been there. Are there mugs, are there pens with the name of drug companies or device companies on it?

Also, ask questions. If you're concerned that a certain recommendation might be based on a link to industry, just ask, do you receive money from this company?

Also, know when not to worry. Certain things, like a short-term prescription for your antibiotics -- probably that's not because of any bias. Drug companies don't spend much time marketing those things.

Now, the American Medial Association says the first priority of physicians is the health and well-being of our patients. But if you want to learn more about this, Sanjay, go to -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth.


Coming up next, I've heard some pretty creative excuses for not working out, but an allergy to exercise?

It may sound like a cop out, but for some, it's very real. We're going to have more on unusual conditions. That's coming up after the break.


GUPTA: It's time for our segment called Ask the Doctor -- a chance to answer the medical questions that are on your minds.

And here's a question from our in box.

Barbara in Pennsylvania asked this: "My children are from Sri Lanka and have brown skin. Does their skin have automatic protection from the sun or is sunscreen just as important for them?"

A great question, Barbara. I think about that, as well. Considering more than one million skin cancers are diagnosed in the United States every year, fairer skinned people are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma. That's the most lethal type of skin cancer. And though darker skinned people are at much lower risk, here's something to think about. Studies find that death rates are higher especially for blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, because of typically the lack of protection and also late detection.

So to answer your question, some protection is important for all people. The CDC recommends a sun protection factor of around 15 SPF for just about everyone.

Now, our next question comes from Richard in Virginia. He writes this: "When I walk or jog, my legs become itchy and I have to stop at once. What is the cause and are there any solutions out there?"

Well, Richard, this is an interesting condition. It's called cholinergic urticaria. Cholinergic refers to a chemical system in the body and urticaria is another word for hives. To break it down, this Chad pretty much means that you have an immune system disorder characterized by hypersensitivity to heat, exercise and stress -- an exercise allergy.

Doctors are still trying to understand how to prevent it, but there are things you can do to lessen flare-ups.

First of all, take an antihistamine before working out. Two, warm up and cool down slowly. And, three, in general, avoid situations where you go from extreme hot to cold, and also vice versa.

Now, in extreme cases, people can develop more severe symptoms, like fever, a lump in the throat or abdominal cramping. Sometimes medical attention may be necessary.

Every week we answer your medical questions. If you want your question answered, just e-mail us at or give us an I-Report at, as well.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, check out my pod cast on

Remember, HOUSE CALL is the place for the answers to all your medical questions.

Thanks for watching.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.