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Washington Feels the Force; 9/11 Fund Won't Pay For Responder Cancer Treatments; Motocross Racer Makes Comeback After Paralyzing Accident

Aired July 30, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hey, there. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for being with us.

We got a lot to catch up on this morning, including a controversial ruling for workers at the Twin Towers rescue scene on 9/11. Remarkable story.

Also, a top motorcycle racer who found a way to continue his career even after an accident left him partially paralyzed. We'll explain.

But, first, how the budget dealings in Washington could impact kids, including little Max Page -- or maybe I should call him "Mini Darth Vader."


GUPTA: You remember Max Page. And we introduced you to him last week as well here on SGMD. He is a crazy, cute kid. He's 6 years old.

But he's also on his third pacemaker. He's had eight major operations. A lot of people don't know that about him. So, this week, he took Capitol Hill by storm this week.


GUPTA (voice-over): Max and his family came to Washington with a group of kids to put the pressure on lawmakers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are one family from California trying to make a difference.

GUPTA: To protect Medicaid coverage for children and preserve federal funding for the programs that train nearly half the nation's pediatricians.

They met with lawmakers from both parties.

MAX PAGE, "MINI DARTH VADER": I really want to help my hospital. So, it's really neat hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, it's hard for something like a worthy institution like this. SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: You're going to be around here a lot longer than I am. So, we want to make sure that --

PAGE: Actually, I think you are around here a lot longer than I am. I'm 6 years old, I don't know, and you are a senator?


GUPTA: And Max joins me now from Washington, along with mom Jennifer and dad, Buck. And I guess we lost the little brother Ells? It's been a busy week out there. He's taking a nap, is he?

JENNIFER PAGE, MAX'S MOTHER: He is in the control room directing the show.

GUPTA: Why does that not surprise me, knowing the Page boys.

Max, how has the week been for you? Is it what you expected?

M. PAGE: Well, it's been on the Darth Planet. It's been on the Darth Planet, all right.

J. PAGE: Tell them about the special place you got to eat.

M. PAGE: I got to eat in the Senate dining room.

GUPTA: Wow, that's pretty impressive.

Jennifer and Buck, when you are describing why you guys are there, is there a particular mission?

J. PAGE: The mission is twofold where Max is up here to try and help save the Medicaid funding for children. Thirty million children are on Medicaid. And also to get the message out to save the funding for children's hospital graduate training program so that we are training pediatricians in children hospital facilities.

Children's hospitals are 1 percent of the hospitals, yet they train 40 percent of the pediatricians and pediatric specialists. And that was the main mission for the last two and a half days. Just to get the word out.

GUPTA: You know, Buck, we've obviously talked about this quite a bit. But I don't think a lot of people realize these programs are in jeopardy, talking again about Medicaid which provides, you know, this level of care to about a third of kids out there and training doctors as Jennifer was saying.

Were you -- did the people seem to understand the implications of your message?

BUCK PAGE, MAX'S FATHER: I think they all understood what we are here to do and the message that we are delivering. I think we broke it out in some very clear detail even if it was confusing at one point where it was lumped into a bigger package. They all seemed very committed and they all listened. And they all seemed to understand and had a clearer focus on what part of the overall challenge. But the part we were here representing, I think they had a clear understanding.

GUPTA: And, Jennifer, if the message is not received, what is the worst-case scenario here? What happens as a result?

J. PAGE: As a result, the funding will get cut for Medicaid for the children. And the graduate programs at our children's hospital of Los Angeles, we have 200 pediatric -- pediatricians in training at any one time. Just at our hospital, that dropped down to 50. It would decrease by 75 percent.

So, it has a short-term and long-term impact on not just the specialists, but the basic pediatrician, which every pregnant woman goes and interviews pediatrician as soon as, you know, about eighth month. So, it's really important long term.

GUPTA: Yes. No doubt about it.

And, Max, you are sort of representing a lot of kids. I mean, a lot of kids are looking to you and hoping that the senators and the congressional leaders are listening to you.

Do you feel like they were listening to you, Max?

M. PAGE: I feel a lot like they were listening to me, mom.

J. PAGE: And I think they had fun with you. It was a stressful week up there, but you made it fun up there. There was a lot of laughter when you walked in the halls.

GUPTA: Yes, but congratulations, Page family. You guys are doing amazing work. I hope people are listening. I know there's been a lot of discussion regarding, you know, where we are going in this country in terms of our budget. So, hopefully, this was a message that was heard as well.

Thanks for joining us.

J. PAGE: Thank you. Thank you so much for your support in the message.

GUPTA: You know, you may not know this, but earlier this year, the White House proposed to eliminate all funding for the federal program that helps train pediatricians and pediatric specialists. That's what Jennifer was just talking about. They say we need to save the money.

So, when Max was in Washington, a House subcommittee voted to continue the program. Now, it was just a first step, an important one. But there are many more committees that still need to weigh in.

The other issue you heard about from Max and other kids lobbying in D.C. is Medicaid. About a third of all kids in hospitals get some sort of Medicaid assistance.

After Max and his family left the office, we caught a few minutes with other Max, Democratic Senator Max Baucus.


SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: There probably will be some cuts and there probably should be some cuts as we get our deficit under control. But we're not going to cut kids. Whether it's children's health insurance program or even under Medicaid, we're just not going to cut kids.


GUPTA: That's good to hear, a lot of people are obviously paying attention with those words. The budget fight, of course, is still unfolding. But it's clear. Some of the proposals being discussed could result in some major cuts to Medicaid which again helps many children, as well as people with low incomes.

Now, we spent time with Minerva Love (ph). She's a 5-year-old girl whose family relies on Medicaid for her care.


GUPTA (voice-over): Her family calls her Mimi. And she's got a smile that lights up a room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, Minerva. How are you?

GUPTA: Like it did this week on Capitol Hill.

But even at age 5, she can only speak a few words.

You see, as a young baby, she developed hydrocephalous. Her skull filled with fluid and it blocked her brain's development.

ASHLEY MIRANDA, MIMI'S MOM: It is so much to take in. It was scary because it's like you are telling me my kid doesn't have -- I never heard of this. She doesn't have a brain. It was scary. It was so scary.

MIMI: Hi. Yes.

GUPTA: Her thinking is normal for her age, but her motor skills are nonexistent.

Mimi's mother, Ashley, works for the federal government, the TSA. But without Medicaid, she says she doesn't know how she could pay for physical therapy or this device.

And that's why she's so worried that the budget fight will make it harder to care for her daughter.

MIRANDA: She requires almost a lifetime worth of therapy. She requires multiple therapy every single week. It was make it extremely hard.

GUPTA: It's not just Mimi, Medicaid helps nearly a third of all children and covers fully half of the kids at children's hospitals.

Congressman Michael Burgess is a physician and he's big backer of programs to train pediatric specialists.

But with Medicaid, he says, we are facing tough choices.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: It is going to require more money. That more money is going to have to come from somewhere. Does that mean a lessening of benefits for people who are currently on the program currently and evening out or equalization or the distribution of those? When you have a finite number of resources and expanding pool of people that need to be serve, something is going to give somewhere along the line.


GUPTA: That's a little reminder that these budget negotiations that you're hearing about involved some hard choices and lots of numbers. But there are real people behind those numbers, like Mimi and like Max.

And coming up, a controversial decision affecting workers who say they got sick, extremely sick in cases after they rushed to help at the World Trade Center site on 9/11. We'll see what they're trying to do about it. That's next.


GUPTA: There is a ruling this week that angered many that worked at the Twin Tower site after 9/11. You know, there's this $4.2 billion fund to help compensate workers who suffered health problems related to their time at Ground Zero. Well, this week, the man in charge of that fund said it would not pay compensation for cancer treatment. He said there is no established link.

Now, I have been tracking the health of 9/11 responders in this year-long investigation. In fact, I just recently spoke with Ernie Vallebuona, he's a former detective with the New York City Police Department, who was one of the first responders right after the attacks. Just four years later, Vallebuona was diagnosed with an aggressive stage three lymphoma, a type of cancer. He told me he has been worried that the decision would come down the way that it did.


GUPTA: If there was a study that came out tomorrow, Ernie, that said, we now know that people getting sick at Ground Zero had nothing to do with the environment, how would that make you feel?

ERNIE VALLEBUONA, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: Well, I would have to say it would be a total lie because any doctors I've spoken to, even nurses, they all say the same thing. You know? Oh, it's definitely -- it's definitely related. We got so many rescue workers, especially cops and firemen.


GUPTA: And you hear that sentiment quite a bit as we have been investigating this, talking with doctors, talking with researchers who do suspect a cancer connection. Something they are racing to sort out to get the right help for people who are sick and even dying right now.

You can see the full investigation. It's called "Terror in the Dust: 9/11." It's in a few weeks. It's set to run September 7th, 11:00 p.m. Eastern and 8:00 Pacific.

I want to show you something for a second that I'm pretty excited about. It's called "My Lifestream." You go to to find it. And if you go there, this is what you're going to find.

Scroll up here and you have a lifestream. Find my various tweets, videos, blogs, podcasts. This entire show for example, you can find right there by clicking podcasts.

Photos we had over the years as well. Sometimes when you go through here, you'll find videos from documentaries that we've done. Interviews, some of our best interviews. You can find all of these in one location.

Now, some of the photos are particularly interesting. Things that you're not going to see on TV or behind the scenes sort of things.

For example, if you click on the photos specifically here and scroll up, this is Haiti, for example, you'll see of the behind-the- scenes footage and pictures from Haiti. This is an interview that I did with President Preval shortly after landing, a day that he told me that he literally didn't know where he was going to be sleeping that night.

But, again, lots of stories here that you're not going to find on television on the specific lifestream. And also, you know, we working on the Fit Nation. You can see some candid interviews with our Fit Nation triathletes. Colorful conversations, here I am with Sharon Stone, and also, that information about the books that I have written over the years.

So, my lifestream. Hope you'll get a chance to check it out --

After the break, we're going to show you two inspiring stories of overcoming the near-impossible, a college football player who didn't let cancer stop him from his dream and he really did achieve them.

And a motocross racer whose paralysis could not keep him from racing.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: You know, we have a new finding from researchers studies head injuries, something that we have been reporting on quite a bit. We know repeated hits to the head, for example, from football or boxing can cause a type of lasting brain damage.

Take a look there. It's called CTE. On the left is a normal brain. On the right is a CTE impacted brain.

Now, it's important. This week, researchers at the University of California-Davis said they have figured out a way to specifically identify this time of damage and tell it apart from similar conditions like Alzheimer's. Now, it's not going to help living patients necessarily. It can only be detected after death. But these researchers say it's an important first. We'll stay on top of that.

Last year, we told you about a college football player, Mark Herzlich, a linebacker for Boston College. In 2008, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. After months of chemotherapy and radiation, last year, he got himself back on the field. Just this week, he got some pretty big news. He has signed on to play with the New York Giants in the NFL.

Competition is also a way of life for Doug Henry. He is a four- time national motocross champion. He's been riding bike since he was 4 years old.

At age 38, he had a devastating accident during practice, which left him paralyzed. But you know what? That wasn't even enough to keep him off the track.


GUPTA (voice-over): Four-time national motocross champion Doug Henry's racing career has taken him to incredible heights and devastating lows. He's been inducted into the American Motorcycle Association's hall of fame and won dozens of medals and trophies over the years.

But look closely. You'll see this bike is modified with a bar and a strap that help him stay on. That's because four years ago, the unthinkable happened. And he was paralyzed.

DOUG HENRY, MOTOCROSS CHAMPION: When I hit the wall between the bike, you know, I was stuck between the bike. You know, it was the end. It was the end for me. It was all over.

GUPTA: Henry's love affair with racing began when he was four. At 15, he entered his first race, had a midair collision and broke his arm.

After turning pro at the age of 20, Henry had another bad accident and broke his back for the first time. But he recovered. Two years later, he was back on the track.

There were more injuries, over 200 serious crashes, but he always walked away until March 4th, 2007. He lost control on a corner during practice.

HENRY: I knew it was over. I just -- everything just -- dancing. I wasn't much of a dancer, but I knew I wasn't going to be.

I thought about all the things that we couldn't do or wouldn't be able to do together.

GUPTA: It got worse. Two weeks later, his wife, Stacy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. But together, they got through it.

Henry is partially paralyzed from the waist down. But it hasn't stopped him from competing. He's modified a snowmobile and a dirt bike to race in X-Game competitions designed for disabled athletes. And he's running races in his new sport.

Henry hopes he can motivate others, whose lives have suddenly taken a detour and help them back to doing what they love.

HENRY: I try to do as much as I can now and enjoy the day, just try to get the most out of my life.


GUPTA: Story of achieving seemingly the impossible, overcoming some significant obstacles there. Good luck, Doug Henry.

Coming up a new challenge for me and my fellow triathletes. There's a spill in the river that's getting pretty scary. Just one week to go now.

That story, straight ahead. Stay with us.


GUPTA: You know, as we're getting ready to dive in for next week's swim, part of the New York City triathlon, there's news out this week that more than 200 million gallons of raw sewage was discharged into the Hudson River, right into the swim's path. That's like 275 high school swimming pools full of raw sewage. The released incidentally occurred after a fire in one of the New York City's waste water treatment plants. Now, the city has been testing the waters on a daily basis and the results aren't good. They were forced to shut down several beaches and rivers but hoping it's going to be safe in time for our swim next week.

You know, dirty waters are not dampening anyone's excitement I would say about the upcoming race.

And joining me one of our six viewers who are going to be joining me at the race next week, Nina Lovell, who told us yesterday she literally had to put books on her head to keep herself grounded, she's so excited about this.

Nina, thanks for joining us. You look fantastic, first of all. You really look great.

NINA LOVELL, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: Thank you. I feel great, Sanjay.

GUPTA: You know, when we first met you, you said 58 was the new 28 and some people thought that's just a slogan. But at 58, you're literally blowing some of these younger guys now out of the water with your training.

How do you feel about your training overall?

LOVELL: My training has just gone great. I have been able to accomplish all of the goals that I've had for it, and I have done a river swim, I've been practicing in the pool. I'm ready. I'm ready for everything.

GUPTA: What's the secret here? I know, because at one point, even you had some doubts. It's an audacious task to take on. People watching right now think, what is -- what can you share with people that got you through this?

LOVELL: Well, when we first started, I couldn't run a mile, really, barely, without walking a little bit of it, and it's just because that my training has been very slow and incremental and careful and very steady, six or seven days a week, that I've been able to build up very gradually my endurance. And people will look at me and say I can't believe you can run six miles.

Well, I couldn't automatically run six miles. I had to build up to it.

And it's the same with the biking. I was not real comfortable with the biking at first. I've falling a lot off my bike. But Sunday before last, I took a 50-mile bike ride.


Nina, I can't wait to see you at the beginning of the race and then certainly at the end of the race as well. I'm going looking forward to seeing you there.

LOVELL: Thank you. I can't wait to see you either, Sanjay. Have a safe trip.

GUPTA: All right. Nina, fingers crossed.

Last but certainly not least, Kendrick Henley has been focused on making lifestyle changes and will last long after the triathlon ends and he joins me now from Chicago.

Last time I think we worked out together was in Hawaii. I know a big part of that workout time for you is just building up some confidence. You hadn't done a lot of these things before.

How is your confidence level overall as you're approaching this?

KENDRICK HENLEY, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I think it's drastically improved since Hawaii. I mean my longest bike ride today was -- or to date has been 30 miles. GUPTA: Wow.

HENLEY: I've been able to swim a mile in Lake Michigan and been able to walk, run six miles necessary for the race.

GUPTA: That's fantastic. I mean that's -- you're already -- sounds like you're ready right now. That's really great.

HENLEY: Yes. Yes.

GUPTA: A lot of people, you know, were curious about you and, you know, watch you and think, could I do this myself? What would you tell people? I mean, anybody who wants - you never done this before, about to do a triathlon, a challenging physical event. Can anybody do this, do you think?

HENLEY: I think for the most part. I mean, I think it's just taking it one step at a time and really just setting realistic goals for yourself. I think that's very important.

GUPTA: For us -- as you know, we talked a lot about this -- the goal is really about fitness, about creating a more healthy America. For you, you said one of the things you wanted to do was try to lose some weight. That was a priority for you.

I mean, you look great. How much weight have you lost? And more importantly, how do you feel?

HENLEY: I've lost about 30 pounds right now. And I feel a lot better. I feel a lot stronger than I did when I started in January and February.

GUPTA: Well, we'll be right there at the start line together, jump into the Hudson together and congratulate each other at the end. I'm really proud of you.

HENLEY: Oh, thank you. I look forward to that.

GUPTA: And that's it. We're almost out of training time. Kind of scary.

Next weekend, I'll be running the New York City triathlon, along with Nina, Kendrick and the rest of our six-pack. Some of our producers as well are going to be joining us. SGMD is going to be live on Saturday and Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. Eastern from that location.]

You can always keep up with the very latest at as well.

Right now, though, a check of your top stories and on to Mr. T.J. Holmes.