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Live Grenade Stuck in Leg; Shocking Medical Mistakes; An End to Violence

Aired June 9, 2012 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hey there. Thanks for joining us.

On tap today, how to avoid some shocking medical mistakes.

Plus, Hall of Fame baseball player and manager Joe Torre, he opens up about his childhood in an abusive home.

But first, you know, we have seen a lot of stories over the years of U.S. troops in battle, recovering, defying medical odds, surviving devastating injuries. But what happened to Marine Corporal -- Lance Corporal Winder made my jaw drop. How does anyone survive having a live rocket-propelled grenade shot into their body?

Here is CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marine Corporal Winder Perez knew the rocket-propelled grenade was coming right at him.

CPL. WINDER PEREZ, U.S. MARINE CORPS: All of a sudden, just -- I just saw the RPG coming towards me. And it hit me, and you know, I was hit and my boys, they knew exactly what to do, and they came down. No hesitation, no nothing. And they picked me up, they got me to safety.

STARR: Winder Perez had a live foot-long rocket propelled grenade embedded in his left side. But even so, he kept his cool.

PEREZ: I tried to call in my own medevac but I couldn't because my radio, the RPG had struck the battery in my radio.

STARR: Plain words from this baseball loving 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic. Perez and his fellow marines knew the RPG could explode at any minute, but they also knew he needed medical help as soon as possible. It would become a journey of courage and even humor by so many.

PEREZ: We were just joking around, while they were attending to me, we were there like it was nothing. You know, we're just talking.

STARR: Captain Kevin Doo's helicopter crew immediately agreed to take on the dangerous mission.

CAPT. KEVIN DOO, U.S. ARMY MEDEVAC PILOT: There was quite a bit of alarm, I must be true, at the time, as you can imagine.

PEREZ: Perez and that live rocket were just inches from 300 gallons of aviation fuel.

When the helo landed, Navy trauma nurse, Lieutenant Commander James Gennari ordered his staff to stay away.

LT. CMDR. JAMES GENNARI, U.S. NAVY NURSE CORPS: I decided I was going to go, because quite frankly, I'm not going to ask somebody to do what I'm not going to do. It's not going to happen.

STARR: Look at this video, Gennari in the helmet, made a vow to Perez.

GENNARI: I promise you, I won't leave you until that thing is out of your leg. He said, cool.

STARR: Gennari and an explosives expert struggled to pull the rocket out. Remember, it could have exploded at any moment. Surgeons say just a few millimeters to the left or right and the RPG would have cut an artery. Perez would be dead. As it is, he's hanging out again with his Marine buddies.

PEREZ: We went out to a baseball game, we did what buddies do back home, you know, didn't really talk much about when we were over there, just kind of forgot about it, moved on with our lives. Hung out, you know, drank a little. Just did man stuff.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Washington.


GUPTA: And joining me now from Chicago is Lieutenant Commander James Gennari, the U.S. Navy nurse responsible for saving Perez's life.

Thanks for joining us. Welcome back home. Great to see you there live and back.

I spent a great deal of time, Commander, in Afghanistan. I have some idea of what it must have been like, sand everywhere, not ideal conditions, dusty desert tents.

Did you -- there's a process in your mind, although it's very an unusual situation. I mean, did you know right away you need to take this out? Was there a consideration, look, can we deactivate this in some way before taking it out?

GENNARI: Well, as I was walking out, I ran into the one general surgeon we had, Commander Andy Pelzar (ph). He and I discussed it briefly and the choices were two. One, we would pull it out, see if we could control the bleeding, and carry on from there. Or two, we would send out the one general surgeon we had with an O.R. tech and a nurse and an anesthesiologist and see if they'd surgically remove it.

It seemed prudent to try plan a first because quite frankly, one of two things is going to happen, it was going to come out or blow up. It didn't blow up, we could get it out or at least dislodge it enough so then surgical intervention could be used. We only had one surgeon and we have more nurses and myself, so I guess it was kind of a mathematical thing.

GUPTA: Still just an unbelievable story, right from where I heard it.

You're back home now safe and sound in Chicago, as I pointed out. As you told the story to your family and to your friends, what's been their reaction to it? And let me add this, would you do it again if the same sort of situation happened?

GENNARI: The answer to the second question first, yes, I would do it again. You know, yes, I would do it again. And the first question is a lot of my family and friends, they call me a hero and all that.

But my wife really summed it up. We have been married 25 years and when I called her on the phone from Afghanistan and told her what had happened about two weeks later, she said, "Well, that doesn't surprise me." She pretty much said it that way, too.

GUPTA: She knows the kind of person you are.

GENNARI: She does.

GUPTA: You have been an E.R. nurse, as you told me earlier, just your whole professional life. And I think as an E.R. nurse in the States, you're in these types of situations all the time, but not when your own life and the life of your staff is also at risk. It's worth pointing that out again, just how incredible a situation this was.

It was an actual live munition in this soldier's body that you removed, essentially, at great risk to yourself. So, I applaud you, sir. A lot of respect, thanks for joining us.

GENNARI: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.

GUPTA: We also have an update on another big story we have been following, Proposition 29. As you may know, it's a proposed $1 tax on every pack of cigarettes in California, estimated to raise about $735 million a year. Now, most of the money would go toward cancer research. Opponents spent nearly $50 million, mostly from big tobacco companies, to try and block that tax.


GUPTA: The voting on Tuesday was extremely close. In fact, in California, they're still counting absentee ballots and they still don't know the outcome. We'll keep you posted.


GUPTA: Lots more ahead, though, on SGMD, including this little boy. He needed an operation. But the surgeons got the wrong spot. We'll share that story behind this terrible mistake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: You know, here on SGMD, we talk a lot about medical errors and the fact they kill anywhere between 100,000 to 250,000 people a year depending on various studies. That number I think is shocking in and of itself, but some errors, I'll tell you, are more shocking and preventable than others.

And my friend and colleague Elizabeth Cohen has been looking into this for sometime. In fact, she has a special report airing this weekend. And we want to talk in just a second. But let's look at one part of this to start off with.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jesse Matlock has a wandering right eye. The three-year-old needs surgery to have it fixed. He goes in for the operation and the surgeon cuts into the left eye instead of the right.

TASHA GAUL, JESSE'S MOTHER: My husband and I were in awe, we're like -- can you repeat that again and she said frankly I lost sense of direction --

JESSE MATLOCK, HAD EYE SURGERY: They messed up and did this eye and then did this eye.

COHEN: Surgeons are supposed to initial or mark the correct site like they did with Jesse. But here's one way they can still get confused.

DR. G. BAKER HUBBARD, OPHTHALMOLOGIST: We place drapes over the entire area to keep it sterile. Mistakes can be made very rarely when you have a draping that obscures the mark.

COHEN: In the U.S., seven patients every day suffer body part mix- ups.

(on camera): Just before the surgery make sure you confirm with the nurse and the surgeon the correct body part and side of your operation and don't be shy about doing it.


GUPTA: You know, I tell you, Elizabeth, just hearing stories like this, we do things in the operating room where I work to try to prevent that from happening. One of them is a time-out where everyone in the O.R. can say, look, let's agree it's the right arm, left arm, right side of the head, left side.

First, let me ask, Jesse had this operation. How is he doing? Did it affect his vision in his good eye?

COHEN: It did affect his vision. So after the surgery, instead of having one bad eye, he had two bad eyes. And he can see out of them, but his vision is misaligned and it's become a problem. He has been getting better, but it's still, he doesn't have perfect vision in that eye. GUPTA: It sounds like, I mean, the worst possible thing. You have two eyes and you showed there, it was a good animation, showed how this could happen. Seven times a day, you say this happens in the United States.

I mean, are they like this? Wrong-sided surgery, obviously, is a real problem. But how dramatic?

COHEN: You know, some might be worse than this, and some might be -- the outcome might not be quite as bad. It's hard to judge harm. For example, there was a woman in Rhode Island who went in for an eye operation and they took out her tonsils. I know, I'm not making this up. This really happened.

And so, was there harm? She's perfectly fine without her tonsils, of course, but they then had to go back and do the second surgery on her eyes. So, she had an unnecessary surgery. These things actually happen.

GUPTA: You know, it was interesting to hear Jesse's parents say they had a conversation with the surgeon who sounded like the surgeon said, look, I got mixed up. I got turned around. It sounds like they were very transparent and forthright about it.

I mean, did you look into that? Are people forthright, or is there a sort of approach that hospitals typically take?

COHEN: In your book, you mentioned a group called Sorry Work, and this was started by someone whose father was killed in a medical mistake, and all he wanted was for someone to say that he was sorry. It shows there are fewer lawsuits when someone does that.

So, I think it is really meaningful to a patient when someone says, "Look, I made a mistake. I'm human, I made a mistake." I think that's important for getting closure on this like this.

GUPTA: You talk a lot about this. It's good advice -- being an empowered patient means speaking up. It means having an advocate with you, especially if you're a child. I mean, is there anything else? And people are going to look at the story and say, that's the one thing I never want to happen to me.

COHEN: Of course.

GUPTA: But what else would you tell them?

COHEN: You're anesthetized. So, you know, this is a difficult one.

We'll tell you something that my husband and I did, our daughter had hernia surgery. She had a hernia on one side. And we said, we want to talk to the surgeon just before the surgery, not the day before, not six hours before, just before he does it.

And we said, you know, let's repeat, doctor, which side. It's the right side, right? It's the right side? And we saw him make his mark on her right side. And this took a little bit of doing. The nurses weren't so thrilled. We slowed down the day's schedule by doing it, but we made sure he knew what side.

He's the guy holding the knife. We want to make sure that he knows and the nurses knew. We wanted to make sure that he knew.

GUPTA: And it's good protocol, I think. It could slow things down, but could save a lot of time on mistakes.

COHEN: I mean, have you had families do that? Before surgeries come to you.

GUPTA: Absolutely. You know, and usually, we'll get a chance to visit in the holding room, we call it, ahead of it and just sort of go over things again. But I thought it was a good use of time because we all sort of go over it again and also alleviate, you know, any last minute concerns.

So, it's a great documentary. I can't wait to watch it. Do I get a sneak preview?

COHEN: Absolutely.

GUPTA: Perks of the job.

You know, one thing -- you have four girls and I have three girls. I always mention this when you and I are together, because it's sort of an extraordinary thing, seven girls among us, but also extraordinary is we hardly get any sleep.

So, stick around for this. It's a common complaint, how you and your baby can both sleep like babies.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: You know, my next guest has the number one complaint of new parents, lack of sleep. No surprise, half of parents say they get less than six hours of sleep every night. Not enough.

And while we know the baby is not sleeping, chances are you're not, either. Dr. Harvey Karp is a pedestrian, has 30 years experience. And his latest book is "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep." Those are on sale this Tuesday and he joins me now from Los Angeles.

Welcome to the show, Dr. Karp.


GUPTA: You, too.

You're known for coaching babies to sleep with what you say, the five essence, that's your method, which includes swaddling, placing the baby on the side or stomach but not while they're sleeping, swinging, sucking, and also using shushing sound. I'm most intrigued by the sound component of this, the white noise, I think you describe it.

Why is that so important, Dr. Karp?

KARP: Well, inside the womb, the sound babies hear is louder than a vacuum cleaner 24/7 and those sounds and all of the S's that you talked about actually turn on a calming reflex. It's like a relative off switch for crying and an on switch for sleep that all babies are born with.

GUPTA: Not all white noise is the same. I actually have a prop here I want to show people. This is a little bit what it looks like here. And you can hear that plenty loud.

There's different setting on here that serves, but you also have rain, don't know if you can hear that, brook.

KARP: Right.

GUPTA: There's even one that sort of simulates the sound in the womb. A little heart beat, you can hear that.

Is this what you're talking about? Is this the right stuff, so to speak?

KARP: That's the kind of white noise, but actually, all of those sounds need to be more rumbly. When you think about what a baby hears in the womb, they're in water, and water filters out high pitch. So, they don't hear as much as they ssshhh, as much as they hear a rrmmm. More low pitch.

And when you think about calming a baby, when they're trying, you go shush. As they calm, you naturally go shh-shhh, you naturally lower your pitch.

GUPTA: Interesting. You know, you're absolutely right. I have three young children, as you may know, and you described that perfectly. But my children are about to be 7, 5, and 3.

Your new book also helps older children get to sleep. My youngest child, first of all, is having the most difficulty. What do you tell a child as they become a toddler who doesn't like to go to bed?

KARP: Well, you know, for one thing, you're not alone, I'll tell you that. Baby center and I did a survey of over 1,000 moms and we found a third of the families were struggling with their kids' sleep over a year of age, with defiance at bedtime, like you're saying, or waking up in the middle of the night. And so, of course, you can use white noise for those kids as well. That helps them not wake up or not bother you in the middle of the night. They'll sleep through better.

But I like to start bedtime, believe it or not, after breakfast. Think about it that way. That you want to encourage them to go out and get exercise and fresh air and, of course, eat well, and avoid caffeinated foods, things like ice tea and cola and even chocolate can disturb a child's sleep.

And then at nighttime, start white noise in the background about an hour before bedtime and start to dim the lights a little bit. That gives a cue to the brain to start releasing melatonin which as you know is the brain's natural sleep hormone.

GUPTA: The hormone of darkness, as it's called, melatonin.

Dr. Harvey Karp, a really pleasure.

KARP: Absolutely.

GUPTA: I have been wanting to speak to you for a long time.

KARP: Thank you.

GUPTA: And I hope a lot of people are going to get a lot out of it. Appreciate your time.

KARP: Thanks. I look forward to the next time.


And you may not know this at home, but lack of sleep for parents is actually also linked to higher rates of shaken baby syndrome. It's a terrible consequence, also linked to child abuse.

Baseball hall of famer Joe Torre grew up in a violent home. He's going to share his story with us next.


GUPTA: You know, it's a hard number to imagine, but some 3 million children suffer domestic violence every year in this country. And among them was a kid from Brooklyn who went on to become the famous Joe Torre.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe Torre, he's one of the most successful baseball managers in the past 40 years.

JOE TORRE, FORMER BASEBALL STAR: I can't tell you what the emotions are. They're just running all into each other, and I can't tell you how happy I am. Never been this happy in my life.

GUPTA: And just as he was reaching the pinnacle of his career, winning four World Series titles in five years, he began opening up about his childhood and growing up with an abusive father.

J. TORRE: My older sister, Ray, came from the kitchen into the ding room and she had a knife, protecting my mom, and my dad was going into the drawer in the dining room to get his revolver.

And I did witness that and I still remember vividly going over to my sister and grabbing the knife and putting it on the -- on the table. GUPTA: For young Torre, who grew up to be an All-Star player and is expected to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, baseball became his sanctuary.

J. TORRE: I had low self-esteem, and I was just lucky. I played baseball. I had an opportunity to go someplace to hide.

So what time do you guys have to be in class?

GUPTA: And today he's giving back by providing a real sanctuary for other abused children.

J. TORRE: The perpetrator -- you know, we do them favors when we don't talk about things like this. And awareness is so important in this and letting people know it's OK to talk about this.

GUPTA: Torre and his wife, Ali, started the Safe at Home Foundation, which funds dedicated spaces inside schools where kids can speak openly and get counseling about domestic violence.

ALI TORRE, WIFE OF JOE TORRE: They don't have advocates for them, and we're trying to be those advocates.

GUPTA: Torre names each site Margaret's Place, in honor of his mother, who was physically abused by his father.

NJAMBI MORGAN, FORMER PEER LEADER: When I set foot in Margaret's Place, it was like I got the chance to be who I was on the inside, without wearing this mask that I portray to everybody that I was OK, because my home life wasn't good. So, I feel like I couldn't trust anybody. And here, I really got the support that I needed.

J. TORRE: Youngsters are strong. They bounce back a lot, but I don't think they realize that it hurts them, you know? And they hurt. And I think it's their attention -- I get choked up when I start talking about that.

GUPTA: Now retired from managing from managing teams, Torre is still in the game, overseeing operations for Major League Baseball, and also giving his time to end violence.


GUPTA: We're chasing life today: growing a garden. Just recently, our friends at launched their 100 million friends and family campaign with this plant giveaway in Los Angeles. The goal is 100 million gardens around the world.

Comedian Richard Lewis showed up. His wife is one of the organizers.


RICHARD LEWIS, COMEDIAN: All I do is eat vegetables now. My wife is into this, you know, God forbid there's sundae in the refrigerator. It's a divorce, it goes right to the divorce lair.


GUPTA: You know, truth of the matter is growing your own garden can guarantee a lot of things. For example, you can avoid pesticides. Some home grown produce has more nutrients than food from factory farms. And one side benefit, one that I love, is that working outside can simply be great exercise for you and your family.

In fact, I brought my own family to help plant our CNN garden. That was about a month ago. Take a look at how it's doing. Look at all the food. We're going to be sharing it with the Atlanta food bank.

Also, before we go today, I got a message from my little friend, my buddy Max Page as he heads to his eighth operation this week. He's just 7 1/2 years olds.

You might remember Max from last year's standout Super Bowl commercial. He's a crazy cute kid who suffers from a congenital heart defect. As Max always says, kids, if you use the force, and he uses the force like this, and you dream big, you can achieve anything. It may be small, but we're mighty.

Well, good luck, Max Page, we'll be thinking about you for sure.

Time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM."