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Spotting the Violence Before It's Too Late; Bullied Girl: "It Hurts So Much"; The Female Phelps?

Aired July 28, 2012 - 16:30   ET


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

On tap today, a story that really hit home for me as a father of three girls. I'm going to tell you about one little girl who was bullied at school so badly she had plastic surgery to stop the bullies. We'll meet her and see what you think.

But first -- it's been one week since a 24-year-old man went on a shooting rampage inside a Colorado movie theater. A dozen people were killed and nearly 60 more injured in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. The suspected shooter James Holmes was until this June a graduate student at the University of Colorado and a highly demanding neuroscience program.

You know, a lot of people have been talking about, been asking me is, do you know what was happening inside his brain, in his mind? And also, if a colleague or family member were ever going to possibly pose a danger, would you know it? What would you do about it?

Clinical psychologist Xavier Amador is the author of "I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help: How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Except Treatment."

Thanks for joining us, sir. I really appreciate your time.


GUPTA: I want to talk about, you know, what -- some of the warning signs might be in, you know, family members or colleagues. But, first, you know, there's a lot of mystery surrounding James Holmes still -- James Holmes. You know, the University of Colorado said very little. All we know is he left his neuroscience program in June. He did badly on an oral exam apparently, but was not forced out of school. The school has told the students and faculty not to talk with reporters, which is understandable.

But a lot of people have asked, could this have been predicted in any way? Can this sort of thing have happened essentially in a very short time or even overnight? What do you think about that?

AMADOR: Very unlikely overnight. If this was a drug induced, for example, psychotic episode where somebody gets violent after using PCP, cocaine -- sure. We see that.

But that's obviously not the case here. Just from even a great distance where you and I sit, that's clearly not the case. There's no drug use reported.

But, you know, I think people are asking those questions because the story is starting to sound all too familiar. Here is somebody who was functioning really well, Sanjay. He was doing well in school. He was socially engaged. And then suddenly, it's as if something snapped and something suddenly happened. In fact, it probably was an insidious and slow descent into psychosis if that's what's going on in this case.

GUPTA: You know, part of the reason I think I ask, I think people are interested, is because based on that, since it is a slower descent as you say, it seems like there's places where intervention could take place and warning signs may have been noticed. Again, no one is casting blame here on anybody or anyone, but -- I mean, are there specific warning signs that you tell people to be concerned about?

AMADOR: Yes, absolutely. But let me emphasize something that you're touching on that I think is so vitally important. The first treatment that people get when they develop schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, other serious chronic psychotic illnesses, if that's what we're talking about here, typically it's seven years after the onset of the first symptoms. The duration of the first treatment according to the studies on this, seven years. So we've got a lot of time to identify the warning signs.

And the warning signs are things like we're hearing about -- in the case of Mr. Holmes -- sudden change in functioning, withdrawal, becoming isolated, sometimes that can be confused for depression. The easiest way to find out is to engage the person, talk to them, ask them about the change in their behavior, or spending a lot of time alone. How are you feeling? Are you feeling sad or blue?

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting because I think that particular issue has had a lot of people wondering this week -- many people with mental illness may not recognize they themselves have it and they also refuse offers of help. How do you -- I mean, how hard should an average person push? Let's say it's a family member, for example, what is someone to do?

AMADOR: Well, I'll speak first personally as a family member I had a brother, my brother Henry who had schizophrenia and his illness emerged very, very slowly. I was 21. He was 28. He had actually been ill since about the age of 24.

I thought his problem was he was lazy. He was giving up on life. He was immature. In fact, he was exhibiting what are called the common negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

For example, when I looked at Mr. Holmes at his arraignment, I saw a lot of what we would call "flat affect" --

GUPTA: Right.

AMADOR: -- where he doesn't express much emotion. A lot of people were wondering about medication. My first thought was: are we seeing the negative symptoms of schizophrenia? They recognize the way they sound and they know that other people just won't understand that they have a special role in the world. They have special powers. They're Batman's nemesis. I have no idea if that's what went through Mr. Holmes' mind in this case.

GUPTA: That's really fascinating.

AMADOR: That is the kind of thing that's really common.

GUPTA: I mean, they have the self-awareness to recognize you're suggesting how they might sound.

AMADOR: Right.

GUPTA: Is there a pitfall? People are scared to talk to folks who they think potentially might be dangerous or maybe they just don't take the time. Is there a pitfall to avoid when talking to someone that you're concerned about?

AMADOR: Yes. Don't give your opinion. And that's the biggest mistake people make is we give our opinion.

When somebody says things like I don't really want to talk about this but I think the CIA has got us under surveillance, you know, my eyes and other people's eyes get wide at least with what I used to do and we try to reassure the person. Instead, pardon the expression, but I learned frankly to shut up and listen. You don't have to agree with the person. You shouldn't lie and agree with the person. Just don't jump to looking incredulous or doubtful or judging what they're telling you. And what you'll find is they'll open up.

And it's really vitally important that people who are experiencing these psychotic symptoms have someone they can open up to. Otherwise, they're alone with their delusions. If they're hearing voices, they're alone with their hallucinations. And whatever those hallucinations and delusions are telling them reality is and what they should do.

GUPTA: People don't think about it as concretely I think as you've just put it so I think it's a very important message to hear.

I hope to have you back. You know, these are tough topics but I think important to a lot of families hopefully listening today. Xavier Amador, thanks so much.

AMADOR: Thank you.

GUPTA: And coming up, this girl who says plastic surgery was the only way to stop the bullies at school. We visited with her in the operating room. You can see and judge for yourself.


GUPTA: You may not know this but one of five children is bullied in school and most of the time it's verbal abuse, relentless name calling. It can leave emotional and mental scars on kids. Well, some families are resorting to extreme measures to make that bullying stop.


GUPTA (voice-over): It's a parent's nightmare.

NADIA ILSE, 14-YEAR-OLD: I used to be very talkative when I was a little kid and now I'm just shy and I'd rather not talk to anyone. I'm antisocial now.

GUPTA: Children viciously bullied for their physical appearance.

For 14-year-old Nadia Ilse, the bullying started in first grade.

ILSE: There was this girl. She came up to me and says, you have the biggest ears I've ever seen. I'm like, well -- I was speechless because I didn't think about it until she said that.

GUPTA: She's heard Dumbo, elephant ears, and much, much worse.

Seven years of torment, so withdrawn, still so hard to talk about.

(on camera): What is the -- do you rember the worst sort of taunting or teasing or whatever? Do you remember a day where that happened?

ILSE: It happened a lot -- well, it happened so many times that it kind of all blends together that I kind of don't remember.

GUPTA (voice-over): Nadia was just 10 years old when she asked her mom if she could have surgery to pin her ears back also known as an otoplasty. She wanted them to stick out less all in an effort to stop the bullying.

(on camera): It's been sort of a dark place for sometime it sounds like.

ILSE: Yes. It's been very depressing.

GUPTA (voice-over): Her mom, desperate to help, turned to the Internet and stumbled across the Little Baby Face Foundation. The nonprofit organization offers free plastic surgery for children like Nadia who are bullied because of their physical appearance and can't afford an operation.

(on camera): There may be people, Nadia, who say, look. You don't need to do this. This is just who you are. It's the way you were born. People should love people for who they are.

What do you say to those folks?

ILSE: I say that they're right. But it'll never stop. It'll just keep going. Get worse and worse.

GUPTA (voice-over): The foundation flew Nadia and her mother from Georgia to New York City for an all expense paid trip to this hospital. DR. THOMAS ROMO III, MANHATTAN EYE, EAR & THROAT HOSPITAL: This will be our target ear. Then I'll match it up, match the other ear which is not as lateralized as this ear.

GUPTA: In her application, Nadia asked to have her ears pinned back. But Dr. Thomas Romo with the Little Baby Face Foundation recommended she change more than just her ears.

ROMO: I love thin chins, but I don't want them as pointy as that chin. We talked about that didn't we? We looked at some pictures of some different people?

ILSE: Yes.

ROMO: Yes. And their chins come off just a little more square so that's exactly what we're going to do, too.

GUPTA: And there was more.

ROMO: When I looked up inside her -- the whole septum is actually going off this way. As the septum goes show goes the nose.

GUPTA (on camera): She never talked about the nose or the chin before, right?

ROMO: She did not because she didn't recognize that.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Romo says with her ears pinned back her nose and chin would be more pronounced. He said all three surgeries combined are necessary to balance out Nadia's features.

(on camera): So any last thoughts as we go into the O.R. here?

ILSE: Nervous. Excited.

GUPTA: In some ways this has been seven years in the making for Nadia. She just went under but she tells me she has been dreaming about this day for sometime. And now it's all happening for her.

So, what Dr. Romo is doing is an otoplasty, a reduction rhinoplasty, reducing the size of the nose, and a mentoplasty here on the chin.

What might surprise a lot of people is about 42 percent of surgeries on the ears are done in people under the age of 18.

(voice-over): This four-hour operation would normally come with a price tag of about $40,000. For Nadia, it's free.

(on camera): Here in the operating room when you see what is happening behind me, it gives you a good idea of how significant bullying can be. Kids become depressed. They can become anxious. And Nadia's case she told me it changed her entire personality.

(voice-over): But surgery alone won't wipe away the pain from years of all that bullying. Nadia's mom hopes counseling will be the final step in the healing process. Seventy-four hours post op, Nadia is still swollen but cautiously optimistic as Dr. Romo removes the bandages and she sees her new self for the first time.

ILSE: I look beautiful. It's exactly what I wanted. I love it.


GUPTA: I get a little -- I get goose bumps a little bit. Nadia joins us now in studio.

It's so good to se you. You look beautiful and you look happy. How are you feeling?

ILSE: I feel a lot better emotionally and physically because I can now breathe better and I feel better about myself.

GUPTA: I want to put up a picture of you before and after the operation. Nadia, I want you to tell me what you see when you look at those images, before and after.

ILSE: Before, like I see my ears and my nose and my chin.

GUPTA: You focus in on your ears in the before.

ILSE: Yes. And on the after, I don't see so much problem with the ears and I can actually see how beautiful my eyes are.

GUPTA: You do have beautiful eyes. You're beautiful. And you were beautiful before as well and this is something that we talked about.

Are you glad that you had the operation? Do you have any regrets whatsoever?

ILSE: No regrets. I'm glad I got it done.

GUPTA: Your mom said and you echoed this as well that obviously the surgery is one part of this. I mean, that doesn't alone erase the years of bullying that you endured. You're going to go through counseling as well. Have you started that?

ILSE: Not yet, but I'm looking forward to starting.

GUPTA: You're going to see a loft the same kids, right, that you've been going to school with for sometime. You'll see them when you start school in the fall. What is that going to be like?

ILSE: It's going to be nervous at first, but I think I can pull it through and that they'll realize that what they have done and they'll stop.

GUPTA: You know, there are a lot of parents probably watching who, you know, may worry about their own kids like I worry about mine and your mom worried about you. What would you say to parents out there after all that you've been through now?

ILSE: Just give your children a lot of love and affection and tell them that they're beautiful every single day.

GUPTA: Well, that's really good advice. I think a lot of parents -- I try and tell my daughters that every single night. It's funny that you mention that, that particular thing.

It's good to see you. Like I said, you look great. You look happy. I'm so delighted for you.

ILSE: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thank you for joining us.

Still ahead, they're calling her the female Michael Phelps, the next big thing. Missy Franklin, she's up for seven gold medals in London. Stay with us.


GUPTA: The Olympics finally getting under way this weekend in London. One big story you may not know yet is swimmer Missy Franklin. Pay attention to that name. Her hometown is just a few miles away from the scene of the horrific mass shooting in Colorado. And this week, she told how she first heard the news on CNN.


MISSY FRANKLIN, 2012 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIM TEAM: I texted my mom right away and she was up even though it was like 3:00 a.m. there and I told her and she immediately got on the news and was sending me constant updates but it was absolutely horrible. It was just so senseless. And you have to wonder why these things happen in the world.


GUPTA: It's a lot to process for anybody especially a 17-year-old who has lots going on. But Franklin who is going to be racing for gold in seven events, seven events, is no typical teenager.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Swim all the way to the wall and I'll come in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She loves swimming on her back. She loves backstroke, I'm telling you.

GUPTA (voice-over): Missy Franklin at 2 years old --


GUPTA: -- and, at 5, winning her first free style race.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's winning. She's winning. First race.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, Missy! Go! Go! Go!

ANNOUNCER: Missy Franklin almost a body length ahead --

GUPTA: Now at age 17, she is the second-youngest person on the U.S. Olympic team. Her backstroke and freestyle are what got her there.

FRANKLIN: I've made the team, which is the most exciting thing I could ever imagine. I'm going to be an Olympian for the rest of my life.

GUPTA: At 6'1", she towers over most of her competition. Her physique is ideal for swimming fast. She has a wing span 6'4" across, shoulders a foot and a half wide, size 13 feet, and flexible ankles that power her forward through the water.

Franklin may be on the verge of worldwide fame. Kind of like the female Michael Phelps.


GUPTA: But up to now, her family and her coach have taken pains to try and let her be a normal kid. Sometimes that means taking her shopping during a break at a meet.

TODD SCHMITZ, U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM ASSISTANT COACH: There's not a lot of coaches that would go hey, yes, let's take you prom dress shopping but then give her a night out for prom.

Temp. Tempo. Push with your feet.


GUPTA: She's confident beyond her years.

FRANKLIN: I love music. I love dancing.

GUPTA: Don't mistake fun for lack of focus. In the pool, Franklin is all about doing what it takes to hit that wall first.

FRANKLIN: I want to have an absolute blast there, and I know that I will. I know if I give 110 percent and leave everything I have in that pool, then I'll be proud of myself.


GUPTA: The female Michael Phelps they're saying. We will see but I'm so excited to watch Missy Franklin. Good luck out there.

Up next, another Olympic swimmer, our friend Eric Shanteau, who has made a comeback from cancer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: Life is full of unexpected challenges but the story of one U.S. Olympic swimmer reminded me even if the odds are against you, you still have a chance to build yourself back up.


ERIC SHANTEAU, 2012 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIM TEAM: This time four years ago was stressful to say the least. I mean, that's putting it lightly.

GUPTA (voice-over): Eric Shanteau's journey to become a world class swimmer has been anything but conventional.

SHANTEAU: Right after I started swimming, it was -- I want to make it to Olympic team. That's where I want to be.

GUPTA: Four years ago, he made the 2008 Olympic team. But just a week before he was set to race in Beijing, an unimaginable twist of fate, Eric was diagnosed with testicular cancer. His doctors pushed for immediate, aggressive treatment.

SHANTEAU: The initial reaction was probably anger. It was a week before the biggest meet of my life.

GUPTA: His doctors cleared him to compete and his cancer operation was postponed until after his race.

(on camera): How you feeling?

SHANTEAU: Pretty good.

GUPTA: Drugs starting to kick in?

SHANTEAU: Yes, a little bit.

GUPTA (voice-over): I was there the day of his operation at Emory University Hospital back in 2008.

(on camera): So Eric is prepped for surgery, ready to go. He has been waiting all day. It's about 7:10 p.m. For a long time, he's been waiting for this operation, two months really, arguably it's the most challenging competition of his career. More difficult than any Olympic competition. He is finally going to get this tumor removed.

(voice-over): After his surgery, Eric told me he really didn't think he'd get another shot at Olympic gold.

But Eric, well, Eric was wrong. He made the 2012 U.S. Olympic swim team. He will race in the men's 100 meter breast stroke. His cancer? Gone.

SHANTEAU: This time around, I'm definitely walking around the deck a little bit lighter. You know, I don't have that cancer cloud hanging over my head and I don't have the weight of that on my shoulders.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: You know, I decided to stick with the Olympic theme for "Chasing Life" today. Now, I'm in my early 40s and believe it or not I just really learned how to swim three years ago. I actually taught myself by watching these how to videos on the Internet. My point is anyone can learn at any age. And swimming offers something that no other workout does.

You see, when you're in the water, you're automatically lighter. For example in water that's waist high your body bears just 50 percent of its own weight. That means you can exercise without the harsh impact on your joints and bones. But the best thing about swimming is that it's a low stress workout that burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

As a general rule you're going to burn about a hundred calories in 10 minutes of freestyle swimming, that's twice what you'd burn on a brisk walk.

That's going to wraps things up for SGMD. You can stay connected with me at Let's keep the conversation going as well on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

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