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Patrick Kennedy: Coming Clean

Aired May 28, 2011 - 07:30   ET



JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask not what your country can do for you --

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST (voice-over): It was the dawn for a new hopeful age.

J. KENNEDY: The problems are not our fault and the battles are not all us and we stand today on the edge of a new frontier.

GUPTA: President John F. Kennedy, JFK. And then, there was Bobby.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY (D), FORMER SENATOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond or go beyond these rather difficult times.

GUPTA: And Teddy, the third to reach the U.S. Senate.

EDWARD KENNEDY (D), FORMER SENATOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: Too many of our senior citizens are being forced to choose between neglecting their ailments or being pulverized by them.

GUPTA: At home, there was Ted and his wife, Joan, Teddy Jr., Kara, and Patrick, who was the youngest by six years.

It was July of 1967, Patrick's birth made headlines. Just five days old, and people wondered if he'd run for president.

(on camera): Did you sit around the dinner table -- I mean, the same issues that he would talk about in public -- I mean, were those part of the dinner time as well?

PATRICK KENNEDY (D), FORMER REPRESENTATIVE, RHODE ISLAND: My dad as well as my uncles always included all of our family in anything that he was doing.

And, of course, I probably caught less than 10 percent of what was actually being said, but I -- I caught the sense that there was something being discussed that was big and important. I felt like I had a front row seat to American history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I admire their spirit and their ability to get along with it is really something.

GUPTA (voice-over): In the pictures, there's glamour, ease and beauty. But life wasn't always easy. Not for Patrick.

SUSAN MILLIGAN, FORMER REPORTER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Well you know, he was -- he was sickly. He had asthma and he would talk about how his father would stay up with him at night.

GUPTA: Susan Milligan, a reporter for the hometown paper, "The Boston Globe," came to know Senator Kennedy pretty well, later in the 1980s.

MILLIGAN: And even when was having people over the house for dinner it was -- you know, to talk about some issue or to get to those some of the other members or some staffers and so forth, and it was just -- his life, it really was.

GUPTA: And as we now know, for Patrick, home wasn't always a refuge.

MILLIGAN: He had a mother with a very severe alcohol problem. His brother had cancer and had his leg removed. I mean, that's very stressful. You know, the parents divorced, there's father's difficulties. It's a lot to deal with.

DARRELL WEST, AUTHOR, "PATRICK KENNEDY: THE RISE TO POWER": His father traveled a lot. His mother was an alcoholic. And so he was lonely a lot.

GUPTA: Political science professor, Darrell West, literally wrote the book on Patrick Kennedy and he says that Patrick's troubles got worse once he went off to boarding school.

WEST: He experienced his first issues with substance abuse as a high school student and actually as a senior had to check into substance abuse clinics.

GUPTA: It was cocaine and Patrick was just 17 years old.

None of it would keep him out of the family business.

P. KENNEDY: I've been taking my campaign door to door and that's been the only way to campaign.

GUPTA: At age 21, still a student at Providence College, he made his first run for office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He looked like a college kid when he was first running. He was socially awkward. He was kind of tall and gangly. And it was very difficult for him.

GUPTA: Even so, he won.

Six years later, he made it to Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Patrick Kennedy, the next Congressman from the second district of Rhode Island --


GUPTA: But his personal problems kept intruding. WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Congressman Patrick Kennedy reveals he's re-entering rehab.

GUPTA: And the hits -- the kind that most people would like to forget, they just kept coming -- shoving an airport security guard, a fight on his yacht that caught the attention of the Coast Guard, and then the one that really made waves.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": The story involves a car, allegations of intoxication and special treatment and a Kennedy.

GUPTA: Crashing his car just down the street from the U.S. Capitol at 2:30 in the morning.

P. KENNEDY: I'm traveling to Minnesota to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic to ensure that I can continue on my road to recovery.

GUPTA: This time, Patrick blamed the crash on sleeping pills.

Kennedy didn't exactly keep his problems hidden. It might have been impossible anyway. But instead of running away, he made addiction treatment and mental healthcare a central issue.

P. KENNEDY: I have an addiction. I have a mental illness.

GUPTA: But I have never heard Patrick or any politician for that matter, as candid as he was now.

(on camera): How much of this is personal for you?

P. KENNEDY: Well I am a recovering addict and alcoholic. I've suffered depression in my life. I have seen in my own life friends of mine, including family members, suffer the ultimate and losing their lives because of this illness.

GUPTA: What was your family's response when -- when -- when you told them you had addiction; you had been addicted to pain killers?


GUPTA: You talked about cocaine at a very young age.


GUPTA: You talked about bipolar. You were diagnosed with it, may or may not have it now, depression. What was their reaction?

P. KENNEDY: Their reaction was informed by open minds. So, they weren't so set.

GUPTA: They don't want to -- they don't want to just staunch you off or put you in the corner?

P. KENNEDY: No. There was -- those immediate inclinations as there is in every family. But ultimately -- I mean, my family was the family that was part of the civil rights fight, was part of de- stigmatizing developmental stabilities with Special Olympics.

GUPTA: When you first talked about it --

P. KENNEDY: You know, the Kennedy family is known for being persevering on the football field, active, winners. So, of course, how did I feel? I felt like a loser. I felt like oh, God I'm not living up. What a shame.

You know, I'm a shame on my family by needing treatment for getting mental health treatment.

But I, luckily, had help, you know. And I also am lucky because that help made a difference in the quality of life that I have today.

GUPTA: Just ahead, more of "Patrick Kennedy: Coming Clean" and his controversial theory of addiction. I'll be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When my husband was a young teen, he went to Washington, D.C. and Teddy was mesmerized.

GUPTA (voice-over): The day I met with Patrick Kennedy -- that was a special day for the Kennedys, ground-breaking for the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute.

(on camera): How significant is today for you?

P. KENNEDY: It's obviously great to see my father's legacy still so alive and well, and see so many people turn out to honor him in this way and to keep his legacy alive.

On the other hand, it's just a reminder that I don't have him in person anymore and that it has to come through this building and memories in order for me to, you know, think of him.

He isn't just in front of me and/or by my side or able to share a conversation.

GUPTA: You think about him every day?

P. KENNEDY: It depends on the situation. And, clearly, I just took my fiancee to meet my aunt. And it was moving to me because I hadn't realized that I didn't get to introduce her to my dad. So, yes, he is with me every day.

GUPTA: Yes, yes that would have -- that would have meant a lot.

(voice-over): On this bittersweet day, Kennedy wanted to talk about a new campaign. He calls it "moon shot," ramping up for research on the brain and on all kinds of brain disease -- the cancer that killed his father but also the things that Patrick has struggled with, like mental illness and addiction.

(on camera): Let's talk a little bit about you. People obviously want to -- people are fascinated by you. You are completely clean now?


GUPTA: When was the last time you had a drink?

P. KENNEDY: Well I do it for today because if I think about my sobriety as anything but within today, then either I'm complacent because I think I have strung too many days together to worry about it or I'm not thinking about what I need to do today.

GUPTA: How many times did you need to go to rehab?

P. KENNEDY: I would say I've been to rehab easily over half a dozen times.

GUPTA: Was there a time when you said this isn't working? And this just doesn't work?

P. KENNEDY: Well, one of the things that I knew I needed to do was to live a life that could support my recovery in a way that was more conducive to long-term recovery. And that's why I chose not to run for re-election, because frankly, living in the public eye and a political life was not conducive to really getting that kind of long- term steady recovery that, you know, is absolutely got to be the number one priority in my life.

GUPTA: People say that if someone is an addict they usually have an enabler -- someone who is enabling them or groups of people who are enabling them. Who is enabling you to do this?

P. KENNEDY: Well, obviously, when you're an elected official, you have lots of people want to endear themselves to you and not always in the most healthy way. So, clearly, as I said, the stress of the job but also the attendant enabling that allows you to try to continue your job in the short run often compromises your long-term recovery, because you think "Oh, I need help now, or I need someone to give me a pill. If you're not going to give it to me, I'll find someone who can."

GUPTA: Did this happen in the office? Were you doing this in the office?

P. KENNEDY: Sanjay, I think the point of this is that I clearly had treatment while I was a member of Congress.

GUPTA: And when I ask you these questions, even now, in fairness -- I mean, part of it is because it can be de-stigmatizing to have someone actually talk about it candidly.

P. KENNEDY: It can. And you know, but you know, it just reminded me of other reporters have asked me, well, which drugs did you use? Did you use alcohol? Did you use cocaine? Did you use narcotics? I said it is like strapping sneakers, who cares what colors those sneakers are. You are using the same sneakers to run away from your problem, whether it's alcohol, whether it's cocaine, whether it's narcotics. You're using something to run away. That's the operative issue here.

GUPTA (voice-over): Coming up: Patrick Kennedy's new passion.

As a neurosurgeon, I was eager to hear about this moon shot to the mind. What is it? That's next.




PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

GUPTA (voice-over): It was 50 years ago that President Kennedy launched the space program. Within two years, there were Americans in orbit. Within eight, there were men on the moon.

Now, the late president's nephew, Patrick Kennedy, out of Congress, out of public office for the first time since college, he's launching a moon program for brain research -- hunting cures for addiction, mental illness, traumatic brain injury and other problems with the mind.

(on camera): If you take a look at that long speech from '61, and there are those lines that stick out, including again that one that says, "We're going to put a man on the moon," and return him safely.

What is "it" that equates to that putting a man on the moon? What are we going to look at and say "We did it," what is it?

P. KENNEDY: We helped our loved ones and our family members live a better life, because this isn't about neuroscience. It's about finding a way to take care of the people we love. It's about keeping the people like my dad around longer because a neurosurgeon was able to give him an additional year of life because that neurosurgeon knew the brain so well, and gave me the most important year that I ever had with my father. That's as personal as it gets.

GUPTA: How much of what you are talking about right now is inspired by your father and what happened to him over the last, you know, year -- 14 months of his life?

P. KENNEDY: Well, it's very much inspired by it, because my dad got the best care. And, you know, that's what informs me just as he was informed in his fight for health care by my brother's struggle. Again, it's personal. It's -- you know, the laboratory person doing this research is a hero to me.

GUPTA (voice-over): This is one of Patrick's heroes, Major Kit Parker. He's a bioengineer at Harvard who happens to be an explosives expert. He's done two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

KIT PARKER, BIOENGINEER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: You know, I've got about 16 years in the infantry, in the Army. So, I know a little bit about what happens when things blow up.

GUPTA: Back home, he began to study how an explosion rattles the brain and can damage it permanently.

PARKER: What happens when the brain gets hit by a blast wave and it slams up against the inside of the skull.

GUPTA: With colleagues at Northeastern University, he's found ingenious ways to simulate the mechanics of the injury.

PARKER: You can imagine that when you drop a rock in a puddle, and you see this wave propagating now, that's what's happening when this blast wave that's pushing through the brain.

GUPTA: Kennedy says this kind of new approach to an old problem could translate to other fields of brain research.

P. KENNEDY: If we don't have neuroscientists working together, if they're not all working together, you're never going to find the answers to get us to that proverbial landing that we all want to see. Whether that landing is Michael J. Fox getting well or someone with Alzheimer's not suffering from dementia. This is a thousand moon shots in order of complexity, Sanjay, but that makes it all the more challenging.

And for our generation, this is our chance to make the difference.

GUPTA: Coming up, Patrick Kennedy on losing his father and finding a new family.

You're watching "Patrick Kennedy: Coming Clean."



GUPTA: Welcome back. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. There's another thing you should know about Patrick Kennedy. He's getting married to a sixth grade history teacher with a 3-year-old daughter. The wedding is set for the second week of July.


GUPTA (on camera): What are your days like? P. KENNEDY: I make sure I try to get all my e-mails and phone calls out of the way during the day, so that by 3:00, when my fiancee comes home and brings her daughter, we're able to play, have an early dinner and then get her to bed. We have a long bedtime routine that involves sharing stories, and I'll read "Curious George" one night or "Fancy Nancy" the other. And that's the best therapy I've ever had.

GUPTA: What's it like being a dad? I mean, you're almost a dad.

P. KENNEDY: Well, I'm just right now loving on this amazing little girl, is the daughter of my fiancee. And looking forward to the opportunity to just providing that kind of support and family structure to them that they are to me, because really, in a way, I would not be living, breathing, smiling, eyes sparkling if it weren't for them in my life.

GUPTA: So, being able to have someone in Amy and her 3-year-old daughter to be able to talk to about this.

P. KENNEDY: Just to share life with, because the greatest determinant of you not recovering is not having love and connectedness in your life.

GUPTA (voice-over): After finishing the interview, I asked Patrick to go with me to the JFK Library.

P. KENNEDY: Well, right here, at the front of the presidential library dedicated to my uncle and his presidency.

GUPTA (on camera): I get goose bumps when I come in front of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. I mean, do you still?

P. KENNEDY: Every time I go in this place. I don't think there's a person who can't be inspired by something that is going on in here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mental disability, you know, Sanjay Gupta.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, thanks. Good to see you. How have you been?

P. KENNEDY: Welcome, everybody. And I hope you have a great tour at the library.


P. KENNEDY: We're saying we need to go to inner space of brain research for our moon shot for today.

GUPTA (voice-over): And just like that, I was reminded what it must be like to be a Kennedy.

CHOIR (singing): For the land of the free and the home of the brave.


GUPTA (on camera): What do you think he would say if he were here right now and you describe moon shot to him?

(voice-over): As we walked through this monument to the president who sent men soaring to the moon, Patrick got back to his father.

P. KENNEDY: He gave me an implicit message when he asked me to be around him at the end of this life, to spend time with him.

At the end of the day, that's the only thing that mattered. He could have all the laws in the world, he could have all the accolades and awards, but the only thing that ultimately mattered to him when he was alone at the end of his life was not being alone, and being surrounded by the people he loved the most, whom he knew loved him the most. Not because he was a senator, but because he was a famous guy, but because he was our dad.

GUPTA: It was obvious the pain was still there, but then --

P. KENNEDY: More than that, you can meet my fiancee right here, Amy.

GUPTA (on camera): Hi. How are you? Sanjay Gupta.

AMY: Amy. Nice to meet you.

P. KENNEDY: Amy is not only a school teacher but -- I mean, she cares so much about childhood development, which is all about understanding these things, too. So, we're a real team in the effort.

GUPTA (voice-over): And as we talked, Patrick was smiling, ear to ear. He was happy.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

GUPTA (on camera): You know, I can't help but marvel what a time this has been for Patrick Kennedy -- losing his father, stepping down from Congress, now about to get married and taking on this staggering new mission. The next chapter, of course, is still to be written. But, really, isn't a new beginning all that any of us could hope for?

That does it for "Patrick Kennedy: Coming Clean."

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching.