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Saving Gabby Giffords; Explaining Graphic & Provocative Images; Minnesota "Wet House"

Aired May 7, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello, and thanks for joining us.

Today in SGMD, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it was so dramatic when we saw her take those first public steps last week on the way to see the space shuttle. Now, we got an exclusive look at the -- some say -- extraordinary medical care that saved her life. We'll talk about that.

Also, Osama bin Laden is still making headlines after his death. and this story cuts deep. But here's a question: what do you say when your kids start asking questions? We'll talk about that as well.

And we'll take you to a wet house. This is a place where chronic alcoholics who are giving free rein to drink. You may not believe this: taxpayers are picking up the tab.

Let's get started.


GUPTA: I've been traveling around the country the last few months working on this documentary about the remarkable recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. You know, people often stop me and they ask: how exactly did she survive? It's a great question.

I can tell you that part of our survival can be credited to three rookie paramedics. I actually returned to the Tucson, Arizona, Safeway with them as they visited for the first time since the shooting. What they described was a scene that was organized chaos yet also eerily quiet at the time. They moved quickly, they triaged quickly and they loaded Giffords into their ambulance in about 10 minutes. They also some give some insight into what it was like inside that ambulance ride.


GUPTA (voice-over): Shot at pointblank range in the head. The clock was ticking to save Gabby. She'd been down 30 minutes. The medics faced a critical decision.

AARON ROGERS, PARAMEDIC: We were instructed by personnel on scene to put her in a helicopter. And I remember that Colt and I looked each other and we looked in the air, we didn't hear a helicopter, didn't see a helicopter.

GUPTA: The rookie paramedics triaging Gabby made that split second decision to just go.

(on camera): So, what happened? Her head is over here, is that --

ROGERS: That's right. Colt initially was initiating an I.V. in her left arm. And we were continuing to check on her responsive level and decided we wanted to start another I.V. And so, that's when I came over to this area, which is a frequent thing for us to do.

And I stood here and during the entire transport I was working on this part of her body trying to get an I.V. established in her other arm.

We had her on oxygen, constantly monitoring every minute or so having us respond -- having her respond to us by squeezing our hands.

COLT JACKSON, PARAMEDIC: I had to put her hand on my leg and I had her to squeeze my leg so I knew that she was still with us.

GUPTA: You guys are cruising, I imagine. Lights are going. You're flying along. Were you standing like that?

ROGERS: This is how I was standing. No other access to the right side of her body from sitting in this position. Colt was working on her left side. So, this is a commonplace for me to go. Our adrenaline was going pretty good and we were just focused on treating Gabby.

GUPTA: Are you measuring blood pressure constantly?

JACKSON: Blood pressure, her pulse, making sure she had pulses in all of her extremities and not just -- you know, on her fingers and make sure she's got it all of the way around. Make sure she's using (ph) all of her limbs.

GUPTA: They talk about airway, breathing circulation. So, her airway you talk about the fact that she was propped up. How do -- how were you assessing and making sure her airway is OK?

ROGERS: You know, we look -- we constantly look inside her mouth and make sure there was no bleeding. We want to watch her tongue to make sure that it's not blocking her airway.

GUPTA: You know, when you are assessing her neurologically, Colt, I mean, you're having her squeezed your hand and we know from talking to doctors that it was her left hand because the left side of the brain was affected and sort of right side of the body was weak. But the left hand she could squeeze.

What else in terms of comfort or, you know, assessing pain and that sort of thing?

ROGERS: She was shot in the head. And to have any level of responsiveness at all I thought was amazing and how quickly she responded, too. Here squeeze my hand, and then she slowly did it. It was squeeze my hand, and she squeezed it right away. GUPTA: So, it was clear. It wasn't a reflex.

ROGERS: Yes, it wasn't something at random. It was always on command always and immediately, constantly saying her name. I don't know if that helps. She knew we knew who she was. To hear her name whether we were strangers or not kind of maybe gives her a little bit of comfort.

GUPTA: With a head injury, do you think about pressure dressing versus no pressure dressing? Does it make a difference to you?

JACKSON: With this, you don't want to press too much down on skull into fragments that could go on in there. So -- but bleeding had been stopped.

GUPTA: So, it looked like the bleeding pretty much stopped as a result of the initial pressure and then just on its own?

JACKSON: I imagine. Yes, sir.

GUPTA (voice-over): Amazing as it might seem for someone shot pointblank in the head, Gabby Giffords was giving these guys glimmers of hope. They just needed her to hang on a few more minutes until they could get her to the hospital.

(on camera): Are you trying to inform her of what's going on? Are you keeping her abreast of what's happening?

JACKSON: Definitely. That's something we always try to do no matter what the situation. We just try to let the patient know that I'm getting ready to stick you with an I.V. We're going to take another blood pressure. You know, this is what we're doing here, so the patient is aware of what we're doing. It's not a shock to them.

GUPTA: The entire time that she was going to the hospital, was she -- was she alert and awake, Aaron?

ROGERS: I mean, her eyes were closed. And as far as alertness, we're seeing she was responsive to pain or responsive to verbal. She would flinch if we poked her or if we pinched her and she would squeeze our hands if we asked her to.

She -- her eyes -- she had some swelling and her eyes were closed. We couldn't assess that level of responsiveness. But for the most part, we could see her kind of wincing in pain with any kind of moving. I don't know if anyone told her she had been shot. So, I don't know if she knew the circumstances she was involved in.

Not many people know this, between the two of us, there was less than two years experience as a medic.

GUPTA: Did you feel completely prepared to do what you need to do that day?

ROGERS: I think so.

JACKSON: Yes. I agree. You rely so much on your training. GUPTA: I mean, your heart must have been racing, though. I mean, this is -- as calm as you were on the outside, I mean, it must have been a lot of adrenaline on the inside.

ROGERS: Absolutely.


GUPTA: And join me Sunday night at 7:00 Eastern, got more on this remarkable life saving effort. You're going to hear revealing and exclusive details of the extraordinary minute-by-minute that went into saving Gabby Giffords, not only from her medics but also her doctors and therapists.

And coming up on SGMD: Osama bin Laden and a very vulnerable young audience, kids -- - your kids and my kids. We got that, straight ahead.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD. This is a week that many people will never forget as this week U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden.

The story brings in a lot of jarring emotions -- 9/11, of course, the Twin Towers, two wars, and, of course, the news itself questions like whether to release gruesome photos of the dead man. It's a lot for anyone to handle, but especially for children because they see these things, too.

I really want to talk about this. I wanted to hear from Wendy Walsh. She's a doctor of psychologist. She's a human behavior expert.

I watch you all the time. And, you know, I immediately thought of you and wanted to talk to you about this.

First of all, let me just ask. I have three children, 5, 4 and 2 years old. You have two children as well. How do you explain this to children?

WENDY WALSH, HUMAN BEHAVIOR EXPERT: Well, I'm a big believer in if you can, Sanjay, protect the little ones and keep them away from television news. I know they want to see daddy. But, you know, when they are young -- now, it gets a little sketchy, of course, when you have an older kid who's exposed to more than the younger kid, because there's a lot of bleed down, of course, of what they're exposed to.

But I wouldn't deal with it with small children unless they ask and you know they've been exposed to it. But as kids start to get 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 -- I have a 12-year-old daughter -- of course, they are tweeting about it in their middle school.

Go ahead.

GUPTA: If they do -- if they do learn about it and even if kids are slightly older than mine, how do you avoid what might be the consequence of that -- the excessive fear, nightmares even?

WALSH: Well, first of all, in explaining it, you want to explain it in simple, concrete terms and use this as an opportunity to give whatever kind of spiritual teaching that your family believes, you know? If you believe in afterlife or previous life, if you believe that biology ends but you're your energy goes on after you through your teachings that you left, whatever -- it's an opportunity to reinstate the sort of spiritual teachings of your family.

But if they are afraid, never force a child to buck it up when they are in distress. If they want to come into mommy's bed, if they need a little extra consoling, that's all good. They're children.

GUPTA: Right. And let me ask you something else. It's been -- you know, I think tough to deal with for a lot of people, but this idea that there was a celebration almost or this feel good spirit surrounding this death. Obviously, everyone knows what happened.

But is it ever OK to celebrate death?

WALSH: No. I don't think ever is OK to celebrate death. And I think that this is an opportunity to again revisit the feelings of mourning for those American lives lost in 9/11.

But let's not forget -- any life causes some sadness somewhere. There were nine children under the age of 12 that were reported in that home at that time. You know, they're not having a good day and they don't need to look on their TV and see us celebrating. We don't like to look and see the other side celebrating.

You know, my daughter who is just 6 and has Asperger so she's in the spectrum, got in trouble a few weeks ago for actually writing the word "kill" on a piece of paper, on a little note. Well, now, she sees people cheering because we killed someone? That's very confusing to a small child.

GUPTA: I think it's confusing for small children and for many adults alike. It's been a tough week to reconcile that particular issue.

Wendy Walsh, a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much. We've got a lot of help from you over the years. Appreciate it.

WALSH: Nice to see you, Sandy.

GUPTA: Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks.

GUPTA: And up next on SGMD: Life at the wet house. Chronic alcoholics given free rein to drink, all of it on the taxpayer dime.

Stay with us. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: You know, this next story really piqued our interest, also, spirited debate around the office. I want to tell you now about a home for alcoholics that lets them drink and it's funded by taxpayers.

Now, no matter what you think, it is an interesting concept for sure. And these types of places are starting to pop up more frequently around the country.

In fact, our Chris Welch spent a better part of a month on working on this story at one of these so-called wet houses.

Thanks for joining us. I really appreciate it.


GUPTA: Tell us a little bit about what you found.

WELCH: Sure.

Sanjay, I talked with residents at one Minnesota facility that's really become a model for all of the others. It's the oldest of its kind in the country. And, like you said, it's the state of Minnesota and Catholic charities that share the funding and operation of the facility.


NICK LOTT (ph), RESIDENT, ST. ANTHONY RESIDENCE: This is where I keep my clothing and stuff.

WELCH (voice-over): It looks a lot like a college dormitory.

LOTT: This is the cafeteria here.

WELCH: But its residents are not students.

BILL HOCKENBERGER, MANAGER, ST. ANTHONY RESIDENCE: This is a program that's designed for chronic alcoholic men.

WELCH: This is not your typical halfway house.

HOCKENBERGER: The difference is there is alcohol in the mix. And these are all men that have been through treatment, numerous attempts. These are men that have lost their jobs due to alcohol, lost their housing due to alcohol, lost their relationships, lost their family, and have really reached their rock bottom.

WELCH: Program manager Bill Hockenberger refers to it as a harm reduction model -- providing a shelter for alcoholics. They don't serve any alcohol, but residents are free to buy their own and then indulge here on the patio.

RAY SPOOR, RESIDENT, ST. ANTHONY RESIDENCE: This is a wet house. This is a place for people to drink and some of us choose not to drink and we don't a lot of the times. WELCH: Stories of success of sobering up and making a new life are the exception rather than the rule, but that's OK with Hockenberger. This place exists to give these men a home -- a place to make their own decisions in what for many of them will be the last period of their lives.

HOCKENBERGER: Sad as it is, I'm grateful to say that you have the choice to die in a bed instead of on the street.

LOTT: This is my room, my humble abode.

WELCH (on camera): You keep your room pretty clean?

LOTT: I'm just grateful to have a room to keep clean, you know?

WELCH (voice-over): After vodka ruined his career as a restaurant kitchen manager, Nick Lott (ph) found himself sleeping under a bridge. But for the last five years, he's found a place to rest his head, on the standard issue twin bed in a modest 12x12 concrete room.

LOTT: It's clean, comfortable, safe. I'd be in a bad position without a place like this. You know, I would be running around panhandling and annoying people and maybe stealing or something.

WELCH: He doesn't drink every day, but when he does --

LOTT: If we have money in the morning you go and get drunk and drunk by the middle of the day, you come up here, you knock out for a couple hours and then depending on what's going up, you wake up again, and you go out and drink again.

You are almost afraid to quit drinking, you know, because sometimes it just seems like that's all there is.

WELCH: In addition to a place to call home, Nick also gets $89 a month from the state. And the day that money comes, he's up early to use it. A few toiletries, new phone card, his tobacco -- and after what seems like an eternity, the clock strikes 9:00 a.m. The liquor store is open.

LOTT: Good morning.


LOTT: Pretty good. How are you doing?

And I know that, you know, it's from (INAUDIBLE) the taxpayers and all that, it's the way it is.

WELCH: It may not come as a shock, the place has critics. Bill Hockenberger knows this.

HOCKENBERGER: I don't feel this enabling at all. This is a harm reduction model that if anything these guys are cutting back on the amount of alcohol that they are drinking coming in the door. And if we put it out there in a way and let them make the decisions, and they feel a lot better about themselves.

WELCH: Nick Lott would love nothing more than to make a decision and sober up once and for all -- to see his family again without feeling embarrassed.

LOTT: There are things I would like to do, but that's basically out of the question.

WELCH (on camera): Do you feel like it's a possibility that you could spend the rest of your time here?

LOTT: Well, that just depends on how much time I have left, if you know what I mean. People die here all the time.


WELCH: That's true. Now, a sad update to Nick Lott's story -- he died this past Tuesday. For St. Anthony, death certainly isn't uncommon. But even the staff said they always felt Nick was in pretty good health, you know, relatively speaking to the other guys who live at this place.

GUPTA: Yes. It's unbelievable to sort of think about. I mean, did you get a general impression of what it was like there?

WELCH: I did. And, you know, it can be a tough place to spend a lot of time for, you know, someone who isn't an alcoholic. These guys are always drinking. You know, you smell cheap vodka, cheap liquor everywhere you go.

But there's another side to it, too. These guys definitely have a sense of worth. Now, you know, you asked me earlier whether I felt like this is a model that works. And it kind of depends on your definition of what work is, you know? Is the goal to just get them to quit drinking all together? That's kind of a lofty goal.

GUPTA: Right.

WELCH: But isn't it just to get them off the streets and give them a place where they can feel like at home? I think it does that.

GUPTA: I mean, the impression I got from watching your piece is that it does definitely seem like the end of the road for many of these people. They tried other things as you pointed out.

And you also talked about costs. I mean, can you put a price tag on this? How much does it cost? How much does it save?

WELCH: Yes. It is for each resident $50 a night. And there are 60 residents there. So, total for all residents each year is about $1 million.

Now, you know, the staff there are quick to point out, you know, when these guys are on the streets, they are going to prisons. They're going to emergency rooms. They're going to detox -- a trip to detox alone is $200. One of these guys I met had been there over 400 times.


WELCH: So, they like to point out that this actually could save money.

GUPTA: That's fascinating stuff. I appreciate the story very much.

And, you know, you'll appreciate this. You know, we've been thinking a lot about the nature of addiction overall and, in fact, next weekend, you can see my special report , "Patrick Kennedy: Coming Clean."

You may know this. The former congressman, the son of late Senator Ted Kennedy, has struggled for years with addiction and depression. He was very candid with me. He had a lot to say about addiction. Some of the same issues Chris was just talking about. He also wanted to talk about how we look at mental illness overall as a society -- important topic.

That's next Sunday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

But, up next here on SGMD, could you overcome major depression with simple exercise? I want to tell you about how getting ready for triathlons, in fact, helped save one man's life.


GUPTA: Dr. Joseph Maroon, he's a team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's also one of the leading neurosurgery experts in the world. He's a colleague of mine.

But you know what? He hasn't always really had it so together. In fact, in this morning's "Human Factor," the story of this man overcame the major obstacles to get his life back on track.


GUPTA (on camera): Dr. Joseph Maroon remembers the moment his life fell apart.

DR. JOSEPH C. MAROON, TEAM NEUROSURGEON, THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS: I had a major personal train wreck. Within the course of a week, my father died, a marriage that was rocky ended, and I didn't have any reserve. I had to quit neurosurgery.

GUPTA: Death, divorce, depression -- all of it happened in a matter of days.

MAROON: My mental processing was gone. I was --

GUPTA (on camera): Rock bottom.

MAROON: I hit bottom.

GUPTA (voice-over): The crisis was so bad, Dr. Maroon contemplated suicide -- but then came the opportunity.

MAROON: It was a phone call from a banker friend in Wheeling, West Virginia, who I think took pity on me and said, "Hey, Joe, let's go for a run." I said --

GUPTA (on camera): Your first response?

MAROON: My first -- are you crazy?

GUPTA (voice-over): But he did go for that run. And he felt something go click.

MAROON: It was the first night that I slept in about four or five months.

GUPTA (on camera): Is that right? Just getting a little bit of exercise in?

MAROON: Four times around, I slept.

GUPTA (voice-over): In fact, he was running so much, he developed an overuse injury. So Dr. Maroon started to bike and then swim and slowly, his depression began to fade.

MAROON: I started to feel strong again and was able to get back to neurosurgery, get back to my life.

GUPTA: That's when he heard about triathlons. Back then, it was a new sport still in its infancy. He was hooked after his first race.

(on camera): You've down how many triathlons now?

MAROON: I've done 70 triathlons and seven Ironman distance races.

GUPTA: We came out here today, I didn't know if I would be able to keep up with Dr. Maroon. Now that we've been exercising, I'm still not sure.

How much of this improvement in your life would you attribute to the fact that you really incorporated exercise into it?

MAROON: I just -- I know I wouldn't be here today if it weren't the case.


GUPTA: Now as we mentioned, Joe Maroon our "Human Factor" triathlete, he's also team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We talked about the concussion crisis in football, we're dedicated it this on this show.

You might also remember Dave Duerson. He's a retired NFL player who shot himself earlier this year. He also left explicit instruction to use his brain for research after he died. Well, the research results were announced this week and as Dave Duerson may have suspected when he left those instructions, his brain did show evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE. That's the same disease that has now been found in 13 other NFL players. All of these cases share a common thread, repeated concussions and blows to the head.

Our sympathies go out to the Duerson family.

I want to thank all of you as well for being with us this morning.

Time now to get you back to the CNN "NEWSROOM" for a check of your top stories making news right now.