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CNN Presents - Toxic Schools/Deadly Fruit/Battery Powered Brain
Aired November 22, 2012 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GARY TUCHMAN: I'm Gary Tuchman at the CNN center in Atlanta. Here is what's happening.
Updated reports from Texas reveal the mutli-vehicle pile-up near Beaumont is worse than originally thought. A Texas highway patrol officer tells CNN at least one person is dead. There are multiple injuries. The chain reaction accidents involved an estimated 100 cars and trucks on Interstate 10 about 70 miles east of Houston.
It turns out fewer than a dozen top officers witnessed Osama bin Laden's burial at sea last year. Newly released e-mails from the Defense Department reveal traditional Islamic procedures were followed, but none of the sailors aboard the aircraft carrier, Carl Vincent, watched the burial.
And here is proof drug smugglers will try anything. Australian police discovered roughly a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of drugs stashed inside a steamroller shipped in from China. They also bust the U.S. citizen and a Canadian.
I'm Gary Tuchman in Atlanta. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
Next, CNN PRESENTS.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CNN PRESENTS, "Toxic Schools."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a building that was storing chemicals that were cancer-causing agents and because of the vicinity and the children that are involved, you didn't care.
ANNOUNCER: These parents have every reason to be angry. Their children's school had toxic chemicals and even worse, they were the last to know.
"Deadly Fruit." Fresh summer cantaloupe. It seemed healthy. But it caused one of the deadliest food outbreaks in U.S. history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any one of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred.
ANNOUNCER: How it could have been prevented and could still happen again.
"Battery Powered Brains." An experimental surgery that can literally change people's minds.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt fantastic. I didn't care what was doing it.
ANNOUNCER: Is it a cure for depression?
Revealing investigations. Fascinating characters. Stories with impact. This is CNN PRESENTS with tonight's host, Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN HOST: Tonight we focus on stories related to your health: Threats to the health of you and your family you need to be warned about, as well as a revolutionary treatment for depression you're going to want to know about.
We begin, though, with an investigation into how school could be making your child sick.
The parents at Public School 51 in the Bronx thought they had hit the jackpot. Their children won the lottery to get a coveted spot in one of New York's best public elementary schools. But they found out the school had a problem, and it's not the teachers or the test scores or even the other kids. The problem was the building. It's toxic. That's right. It wasn't safe for the children. And P.S. 51 isn't alone. As part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's ongoing reporting on toxic towns, he found that all over the country children are going to schools that can make them sick, and his first stop was P.S. 51.
MARISOL CARRERA (ph), MOTHER: Yes, I need your lunch bag.
BRANDON (ph), MARISOL CARRERA'S (ph) SON: OK.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marisol Carrera (ph) is helping her son Brandon (ph) get ready for the first day of school. Brandon (ph) seems excited but Marisol (ph), well, she seems nervous.
CARRERA (ph): Am I always ready myself with this?
GUPTA: This is more than just a case of first day jitters.
BRANDON (ph): I cannot wait to get to school.
GUPTA: In august, just weeks before school started, Marisol (ph) saw this emergency meeting notice taped to Brandon's (ph) school P.S. 51 in the Bronx. That night, Marisol joined an auditorium packed with worried parents.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott opened the meeting with a dramatic statement.
CHANCELLOR DENNIS WALCOTT, NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: First, I want to start out by apologizing to all of you.
GUPTA: And he followed the apology with disturbing news.
WALCOTT: We decided to do environmental reviews. Your school came with a result that we were not satisfied with, with an elevated level of TCE.
GUPTA: TCE or trichloroethylene is a carcinogen. Prolonged exposure can cause Parkinson's, cancer, even death. Tests at P.S. 51 showed TCE levels at a hundred times worse than what's considered safe.
WALCOTT: Based on the final confirmation, we thought we needed to shut the building down.
GUPTA: Parents are upset.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you are using euphemisms. You're trying to be nice. That was a building that was scoring chemicals that were cancer- causing agents and because of the vicinity and the children that are involved, you didn't care.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you guys, Board of Ed, first allowed it to be used as a school for our children. I think it's so inappropriate.
GUPTA: But the parents were even more upset by the fact that the Department of Education discovered the contamination in January, yet parents weren't told and their children were kept in class through the end of the year. WALCOTT: I voiced my displeasure with our folks any myself as far as the timeliness of the notification. And from this point on, whenever we get a positive notification around some type of environmental issue, the parent community, the staff and the school community will be notified immediately.
GUPTA: I met Marisol (ph) outside that contaminated school.
(on camera): So the staff, the kids, all the people who are essentially in this building a good chunk of their days knew nothing about this?
CARRERA (ph): No. The chancellor said he was sorry.
GUPTA: How worried are you?
CARRERA (ph): Very worried.
This is the school right here.
GUPTA (voice-over): Marisol says even Brandon (ph), who's normally upbeat, is worried.
(on camera): You like this new building?
BRANDON (ph): Yes.
GUPTA: You know why you're in the new building?
BRANDON (ph): Yes.
BRANDON (ph): Because it closed down because of TCE, a chemical.
GUPTA: You knew all of that. What do you know about TCE?
BRANDON (ph): Well, it's a cancer-causing chemical.
GUPTA (voice-over): We wanted to ask Chancellor Walcott why they didn't tell parents about the toxic chemical in the school until months after they knew about it. But after repeated requests for an interview, his office declined to speak with CNN.
SHAWN COLLINS, ATTORNEY: For the sheer callousness and recklessness of the behavior toward kids, this is as bad as I've ever seen.
GUPTA: Lawyer Shawn Collins has won a number of TCE contamination suits for communities around the country.
COLLINS: The people who ran this school and their environmental consultants knew for at least six months that there were dangerous levels, in some cases off-the-charts levels of chemicals in the air that these kids were breathing and yet they let those kids go there day in and day out every day for the rest of a semester. Unconscionable. GUPTA: Collins said the building should never have been a school.
COLLINS: It's an old industrial site, not a place to have kids going to school.
GUPTA: New York City records show P.S. 51 did house a car garage and a lamp factory. TCE, once used to degrease metal, could have been leftover waste.
Many schools around the country are built on old industrial sites according to Lenny Siegel, who digs up the past of toxic schools.
LENNY SIEGEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR PUBLIC ENVIRONMENTAL OVERSIGHT: We don't consider contamination before we decide where to put the school, and particularly in New York City where they have so many leased schools on leased properties, most of which are former industrial sites or at least many of which - I don't know the exact number - they had a policy of not looking for problems.
GUPTA: Siegel believes that ground and water testing should be mandatory. He also says P.S. 51 was probably always problematic.
Just weeks before Brandon (ph) and the other P.S. 51 kids started at their new school, parents were hit with more unsettling news. Tests revealed slightly elevated level of a common but toxic dry cleaning chemical, PCE.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what's going to happen to our children?
GUPTA: Parents showed up at another meeting in October to confront the chancellor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I first have to say Dennis Walcott, how dare you?
CROWD: How dare you?
GUPTA: The chancellor dismissed the results at the new school as insignificant.
WALCOTT: There was an open container and so once that was corrected, the levels came back down. It was fine.
GUPTA: But parents like Marisol (ph) no longer trust the school system.
(on camera): What are you going to do? And what's the plan?
CARRERA (ph): Well, I'm just going to watch him consistently. Any little thing that he gets is going to be an alarm for me. He's 8 years old and it's scary and I have to see what's going to happen with him. I pray that nothing's going to come of this but you just don't know.
GUPTA: When we come back -
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About a third of our schools have some kind of problem that causes respiratory problems in children. It is horrific.
GRIFFIN: We've seen a school contaminated by a toxic chemical in New York where many schools still sit on those old industrial sites.
But Dr. Sanjay Gupta's investigation found the problem goes far beyond toxic chemicals. Our kids actually spend about half of their waking day in school but there are no air quality standards for classrooms in the United States. In fact, one school in three has air quality so bad, by EPA standards, it can make children sick. Some fed up parents didn't wait for summer vacaion. They say their kids are staying home until things get better.
Here again, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
GUPTA (voice-over): In picturesque Winsted, Connecticut, a 250-year- old New England town, a typical school day at Hinsdale Elementary. But one fourth grader, Matthew Asselin wouldn't be there this morning or any morning.
MELISSA ASSELIN, MATTHEW ASSELIN'S MOTHER: Now, if you look at him, what do you think? Do you think he's going to be friendly?
GUPTA: Matthew's mother, Melissa, an elementary school teacher, is home schooling her son this year.
ASSELIN: When he was out of school he was well. And when he was in school, he became ill. Last year was by far his worst year. He missed more than 50 days of school.
GUPTA: Mold at Hinsdale, she says was making her son sick.
ASSELIN: This bag represents most of the medications that Matthew was on last year. This is Xoponex, Veramyst. He was given erythromycin (ph). This was right before he went in the hospital for pansinusitis.
When he left school, he left all this behind, too. He needs none of it. So this is garbage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this is actually a zero, Alexandria (ph).
GUPTA: Alexandria Mero's (ph) parents pulled her from Hinsdale this fall after a persistent cough wouldn't go away. That was a tough decision because her father, Paul, was on the school board at the time.
PAUL MERO (ph), ALEXANDRIA MERO'S (ph) FATHER: She's been on the nebulizer, steroids and another medication. Since she's been at parochial school, she hasn't been on any of it.
GUPTA: The school district spent $16,000 this fall to get rid of the mold at Hinsdale and the board is now trying to decide whether to close the school temporarily to replace the leaky roof and make other repairs.
Only about 20 to 30 percent of the population is susceptible to indoor air problems like mold or dust. But for those who are, the symptoms get increasingly severe.
In Fairfield, Connecticut, so many of the students and teachers were getting sick with respiratory problems that officials decided to tear down McKinley Elementary and start from scratch. The school was riddled with mold.
JOELLEN LAWSON, SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER, FAIRFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOL: I started to get sick the second year when they put me in the basement classroom.
GUPTA: McKinley's the special ed teacher Joellen Lawson taught for 23 years before she became permanently disabled with a serious lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
LAWSON: There are three levels, mild, moderate and severe. Because I've lost 50 percent of my lung capacity, I'm considered a moderate COPD person. Yes, I've also never had a pain-free day since then because have I chronic pain, I have muscle spasms.
GUPTA: You can see another source of pain for Joellen, if you ask her if she misses teaching.
LAWSON: I'm sorry, that's a really loaded question for someone who has been forced to leave the profession when they didn't want to. I'm sorry.
GUPTA: If you think Connecticut is somehow unique, consider this - a 2010 survey of school nurses nationally found 40 percent knew of children and staff sickened by their school environment. And not all school districts have the money to fix the problem.
Here at Southern Middle School in Reading, Pennsylvania, concerns about air quality closed the basement gym. And mold is visible in the computer lab.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we see some colonies, there's probably two or three different kinds of mold here.
GUPTA: And take a look upstairs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it rains heavily, the water actually rains into the room. What we do is we take these buckets, these trash cans and we collect the water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's raining outside and inside.
GUPTA: A teacher shot this video.
(on camera): What about mold?
DREW MILES, INTERIM-SUPERINTENDENT, READING SCHOOL DISTRICT: One of the residual effects to the water would be mold certainly.
GUPTA (voice-over): Drew Miles is acting superintendent of Reading schools. He's seen the video and he says there's no money to replace that roof.
MILES: The buildings continue to deteriorate and we only have a small amount of dollars to spread to do just some minimal things like new roofing.
LILY ESKELSEN, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: There are some people who would say this would never happen in my school.
GUPTA: Lily Eskelsen of the National Education Association, which is the largest teachers union, agreed to meet me in Reading, Pennsylvania.
(on camera): How big a problem would you say air quality - indoor air quality in schools is to a student's health?
ESKELSEN: Right now, the last estimates said about a third of our schools - about a third of our schools have some kind of problem that causes respiratory problems in children.
GUPTA: That's remarkable. A third -
ESKELSEN: It's horrific. It is horrific.
GUPTA: Would you send your kid to this school?
MILES: To this school, would I send my child to this school? For the quality of education that I believe that these teachers can provide and the principal will demand, yes. From a facilities standpoint, if I had another option, I would exercise it.
GUPTA: You're the superintendent. People are going to be surprised because, I mean, you're the guy who they're going to say, look, I mean make it the school that you want to send your own kid to, but you can't do that.
MILES: I can't with the financial means that I have now. ESKELSEN: I know the solution to this and it costs money. And this, it's the right thing to do to get these schools the money they need so that kids have a healthy place to learn.
GRIFFIN: The acting superintendent we saw there was fired this spring after we first aired the story on CNN. And just last month, the school board said they are laying off more than 10 percentt of the teachers in Reading, Pennsylvania. No mention of repairs to the school.
Coming up, it was the worst food outbreak in the U.S. in nearly 100 years, killing more than 30 Americans. And it could have been prevented. We investigate. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
GRIFFIN: Last fall, Americans began to hear of people sickened and dying from eating cantaloupes infected with a bacteria called Listeria. The deadly food outbreak lasted months. Then in December health officials announced it was over. By then, at least 30 people had died. And it was the deadliest food outbreak in nearly 100 years. We decided to investigate how the outbreak happened and how it could have been prevented.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): You pick them out knowing just how sweet it's going to taste and how good it's going to feel. Summer cantaloupe. You're eating right. You're eating healthy. And all the better if you are pregnant. Like Michelle Wakely (ph).
(on camera): Do you remember the cantaloupe? Bringing it home, thinking I'm pregnant --
MICHELLE WAKELY, VICTIM: I'm going to eat healthy.
M. WAKELY: Getting fruit cups at restaurants, I go, OK, it's going to be good, it's summertime, it's nice out. Fruits in season. Taste good.
GRIFFIN: Cantaloupe's in season. M. WAKELY: Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): That was last season and since the moment she ate that cantaloupe, her life and her baby's life would never be the same.
M. WAKELY: When we went out late in the afternoon and we were just at a store and I had to call Dave, I went Dave, I'm having terrible contractions.
GRIFFIN: Nearly three months before Kendall was due, the baby was literally forcing her way out of her mother's poisoned body.
M. WAKELY: My gosh, I was so scared. It hurt so bad. And the reason why it hurts so bad the baby was trying to come because the infection at that point is pretty far, you know, into my bloodstream.
GRIFFIN: It was Listeria. A dangerous infection for pregnancy women, for the elderly, for small children. The Listeria had come from cantaloupe from one farm. Michelle and her husband had no idea about all of that. They just new both the mother and the child were in trouble.
(on camera): When they told you this baby is going to be born 11 weeks early -- M. WAKELY: It was awful. The doctor came in and he told you about the problems that could happen with a baby that's born that premature. It was devastating and he went like, she could be blind, she could be deaf. She could have heart problems, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and the list went on and on.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Michelle's baby was born in a rush within hours. And as soon as she arrived, baby Kendall was whisked away by a team of emergency doctors. Michelle and David couldn't even hold her. Barely saw her.
(on camera): When you did see her, what did you see?
DAVID WAKELY, FATHER: We probably saw her, what, about six or seven -- she was --
M. WAKELY: So little. So tiny, red, all wrinkled. It didn't really look like a real baby, it looked like something that you look at like in pictures or something. Bones showing through.
D. WAKELY: Translucent.
M. WAKELY: Translucent. Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): This is Kendall today. Better. Still developed mentally behind her peers.
D. WAKELY: She's got a button that were surgically put in her stomach. So it was like a little valve. You open it up.
GRIFFIN: Being fed through a button in her stomach. Still under 24- hour care.
(on camera): You still don't know what Kendall is facing.
M. WAKELY: Correct.
D. WAKELY: Right.
GRIFFIN: You have a couple years, at least?
M. WAKELY: Yes.
GRIFFIN: To wait, watch, and worry.
M. WAKELY: Every milestone's going to be like is she going to or is she not going to? Is she going to be three months late because she was born three months early? So I'm sure we won't know everything, the full extent until she goes to school and starts to learn.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Kendall and Michelle are among the lucky ones. They lived. We now know according to federal statistics the Listeria outbreak last September was the most deadly food outbreak in the U.S. in nearly a century. And one of the worst three outbreaks ever. Nearly three dozen Americans died. It should never have happened.
Last fall as people began to die, to fall sick, investigators from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control fanned out across two dozen states, interviewing those falling ill or relatives of those who died. They took samples of blood and samples of fruit, still sitting in refrigerators. And the trail of evidence, the cantaloupes themselves, led to this remote part of eastern Colorado near the town of Hollow, and one single farm. Jensen's.
DR. JIM GORNY, U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: It truly was an aha moment.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Jim Gorny was the FDA's chief investigator on the case.
(on camera): And you were able to go back to all these victim's families and they were told, cantaloupes grown on this particular small farm four hours southeast of Denver is what caused the death of your loved one?
GORNY: Yes. I mean the evidence is very, very strong in this case. Some of the strongest evidence I've ever seen.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Jensen Farms has been a fixture in this part of Colorado since the early 1900s when the first Jensen arrived from Denmark. Since then this dry dirt has been passed from generation to generation. Two years ago it went to Eric and Ryan Jensen. They grew up growing cantaloupes. Knew the business by heart. But last year they decided to make just a few changes. And it would cost them everything.
GORNY: What turned the operation upside down was some significant changes they made. It was a very tragic alignment of poor facility design, poor design of equipment and very unique post-harvest handling practices of those melons. If any of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred.
GRIFFIN: When we come back, what went so wrong and why didn't anyone notice?
DR. MANSOUR SAMADPOUR, IEH LABORATORIES AND CONSULTING GROUP: How could anyone have a food processing plant without any local, state or federal inspection?
ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS with your host tonight, Drew Griffin.
GRIFFIN: Last fall federal officials determined that a small farm in eastern Colorado was the source for the contaminated cantaloupes that caused the deadliest food outbreak in nearly 100 years.
What happened at that farm and the food safety system that's failed to stop the outbreak of deadly fruit? My investiagtion continues. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The worst food borne outbreak in nearly 100 years began at this farm. Two young brothers, the fourth generations of Jensens, decided to change the way they packed the melons their family had sold for decades. They will not say on the record just why. But we know what they did. Cantaloupes were cleaned with a new machine. Actually, a second-hand potato washer, according to FDA inspectors.
And the farmers eliminated a microbial wash used by many farms. The FDA would later find out that Jensen Farm had created the perfect conditions to grow the dangerous bacteria Listeria.
GORNY: It was a very tragic alignment of poor facility design, poor design of equipment, and very unique post-harvest handling practices of those melons. If any one of those things would have been prevented, this tragedy probably wouldn't have occurred.
GRIFFIN: The melons, shipped across the country, were time bombs. The sick, the elderly, and unborn babies the most vulnerable. Since September more than 30 dead. One as recently as March. Every single death linked genetically to the cantaloupe at Jensen Farms.
GORNY: So we had lots and lots of evidence that basically this was definitively -- as definitively as possible a smoking gun that this was the source of the contamination.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What many people don't realize is most of the produce we eat is never inspected by any government body. The FDA doesn't have the money or the manpower to do it. The food industry did come up with its own voluntary inspection system called food audits. But we found that system is full of holes.
Just days before the outbreak, Jensen Farms paid a private food inspection company called Primus Labs to audit their operation. Primus Labs subcontracted the job to another company, Bio Food Safety which sent a 26-year-old with little experience to inspect the Jensen Farm.
James Diorio gave the farm a 96 percent. A superior grade. But on the front page of the audit, Diorio noted the Jensens had removed the microbial wash.
DR. TREVOR SUSLOW, U.C. DAVIS: Having anti-microbial in any wash water, particularly a primary or the very first step, is absolutely essential and therefore as soon as one hears that that's not present, that's an instant red flag. It has this netted rind.
GRIFFIN: Trevor Suslow is one of the nation's top experts on growing and harvesting melons safely.
SUSLOW: What I would expect from an auditor is that they would walk into the facility, look at the wash and dry line, know that they weren't using an anti-microbial and to say the audit's done, you have to stop your operation. We can't continue. GRIFFIN: The auditor, James Diorio, would not return CNN's calls. The subcontractor, Bio Food Safety, and Primus Labs declined CNN's interview requests. To some food safety experts, the third party audit system that the Jensens relied on is a joke.
SAMADPOUR: This so-called food safety audits are not worth anything. They are not food safety audits. They have nothing to do with food safety.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Mansour Samadpour runs one of the nation's largest food safety testing and consulting labs for both industry and the government. He says consumers should have no faith in the current system of farm audits. Because of a conflict of interests. Farms pay for their own inspections.
SAMADPOUR: If this industry is sincere and they want to have their product be of any use to anyone, they should be printing their audit reports on toilet paper. The problem is that we have never had a recall, an outbreak, or a situation where, you know, several people died where the company in question was not audited and did not have scores of 96 percent, 97 percent, 95 percent, 98 percent.
GRIFFIN: While critics say some auditors do a good job, it's a voluntary, patchwork system with no national standards or regulations. For now, the audit system, however flawed, is what most farms rely on. Why? Because in four generations of farming, the FDA's Jim Gorny and his team were the first federal food safety officials to ever set foot on Jensen Farms.
(on camera): Prior to your arrival the FDA had never been to that farm.
GORNY: They had not.
SAMADPOUR: Where were these guys before? Why should anyone be allowed to have a processing plant without the required amount of expertise, without having the food safety systems in place, produce food and send it into chain of commerce? So we have failures at multiple levels.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Back in Indiana Michelle Wakely doesn't care much about the FDA, the private inspector, the audits. She and her baby got sick eating cantaloupe grown by farmers, she says, who should have known better.
(on camera): One day I am going to go to that farm. And I'm going to speak to those farmers. What will you like me to ask them?
M. WAKELY: Why? Because they -- they said that their facilities weren't clean. They said the -- everything about their process was not done correctly in accordance to the guidelines issued by the government. There's so many things that they weren't doing correctly. Why? To save a dollar? I mean, people have died now.
GRIFFIN: We met with Ryan and Eric Jensen, the two brothers who now run Jensen Farms, for about an hour in their office behind me. It was all off the record. Not to be quoted.
(Voice-over): The Jensen Farm will likely fall into bankruptcy. Its assets sold to pay some of the medical claims of those sickened or to go to families of those who died. Most troubling of all, there is nothing in place, no protective systems, that could prevent this from happening again. Somewhere else.
GRIFFIN: Just last year, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law, but even with the new law, farms or food facilities still may not be inspected more than once every 7 to 10 years, and many food safety experts are not convinced the problems will be solved any time soon.
Up next, cutting edge medicine. The story of a patient with a battery- powered brain.
GRIFFIN: Our next story is on a subject that scares many. Mental illness. Because there's so much we don't understand. In any given year, 5 percent of Americans have serious mental health problems. Many cases, mood disorders, PTSD, addiction, according to a government study, go untreated. But tonight Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to show you a new kind of surgery that literally changes the way our brains work.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For as long as Edie Guyton can remember, she could not get the sad thoughts out of her head.
EDIE GUYTON: My mother used to say to me, smile, Edie. Why don't you smile? And I would, you know, give something like that, maybe, or just think, what's there to smile about?
GUPTA: At 19, her blank face reflected what would later be diagnosed as severe depression.
GUYTON: That expression is the best I could -- I could do.
GUPTA (on camera): What's it like to look at it now?
GUYTON: I feel sorry for her. You know, I just -- I feel bad for her. That she couldn't smile. That she couldn't talk to people about, you know, what -- what is going on with her that would lead her to cut her wrists several months later.
GUPTA (voice-over): It was her sophomore year. Academic and social pressures were the trigger. And one night --
GUYTON: For reasons that are inexplicable to me even now, got up and started playing with a razor. And --
GUPTA (on camera): You cut your wrists.
GUPTA: You cut both your wrists?
GUYTON: Yes, mm-hmm. GUPTA (voice-over): She went into counseling. But it didn't help. Over the next 40 years, she tried everything else. Including psychiatric drugs and electroconvulsive shock therapy.
GUYTON: And then there was a few years that I think I felt pretty good. But then I went back down. And I went back down very deep.
GUPTA: There were two more suicide attempts before she conquered the demon.
What finally worked? Well, if you could look inside Edie Guyton's head today, this is what you'd see.
GUYTON: I don't think about it, but I have electrodes in my brain.
GUPTA: Two electrodes. The thickness of angel hair pasta. Powered by a battery pack under her collarbone.
GUYTON: And the wire goes up here. And then into my -- you know, into my brain.
GUPTA: Specifically to a part of the brain known as Area 25. It's an experimental treatment.
(on camera): So what are we looking at here?
(Voice-over): Pioneered by neurologist Dr. Helen Mayberg.
DR. HELEN MAYBERG, NEUROLOGIST: The X is where we're stimulating.
GUPTA: Since the mid-1990s Mayberg has been using high-tech imaging to study the brain circuits that control our moods. She figured out that Area 25 is a junction box in the center of it all.
GUYTON: OK. Here we go, Charlie. I know.
GUPTA: Mayberg's research also showed that in depressed patients, Area 25 is relatively overactive.
MAYBERG: Here again, you can see Area 25 except now it's red as opposed to blue because this is an increase.
GUPTA: She theorized that in patients like Edie Guyton who did not respond to conventional treatments, Area 25 was somehow stuck in overdrive.
MAYBERG: It just was a matter of following the experimental trail.
GUPTA: The trail led to the operating room. And a procedure known as deep brain stimulation. DBS.
(on camera): Here at Emory, where I'm on staff, my colleagues have been using deep brain stimulation for more than 15 years to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease. In that case they're targeting the brain's motor system. But Dr. Mayberg wanted to use DBS to target Area 25 for patients with severe depression. (Voice-over): So beginning in 2003, working with a brain surgeon in Toronto, she began testing it on six patients. It had never been done before.
MAYBERG: We had patients who were profoundly without any options and suffering. And we had a hypothesis.
GUPTA (on camera): What did you worry about most in terms of potential side effects from actually simulating 25?
MAYBERG: Because of its vital position, its junction box location, for all we knew, we were going to activate it and actually make people feel worse.
GUPTA (voice-over): Instead, Mayberg saw two-thirds of the patients get significantly better. She has since reported similar results for 31 others.
MAYBERG: And we not only get them better, but with continued stimulation with this device, they stay well.
GUPTA: People who had lived in a block of emotional ice. People like Edie, who had lived that way for years.
GUYTON: It's not that you won't be happy or that you aren't happy, it's you can't be happy.
GUPTA: Not even when her grand niece, Susan, was born.
GUYTON: And somebody handed her to me. And I held her, but I didn't even put her face to mine. I just held her. But I was going through the motions and I felt really nothing.
GUPTA (on camera): Nothing?
GUYTON: Nothing. Nothing.
GUPTA (voice-over): On the day of surgery, Edie's head was mounted in a rigid frame.
GUYTON: The sound of the drill, the feeling of it, and my teeth are going like this. I think it hit home to me that you're having brain surgery. Somebody is going into your brain.
GRIFFIN: Imagine living in a hole so dark you cannot see. So deep you cannot escape. That's severe depression. Now doctors are experimenting with a cutting edge treatment. Battery-powered brains. How does it work? Can it cure depression?
Dr. Gupta continues his investigation.
GUPTA (voice-over): In an operating room at Emory University in Atlanta --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now we're just going to anchor this one in place.
GUPTA: These doctors are trying to use deep brain stimulation to turn off severe depression.
(on camera): Figuring out where the blood vessels are and obviously choosing the target. Is that right?
(Voice-over): The target is Area 25. A junction box for brain circuits that control our moods.
DR. PAUL HOLTZHEIMER, PSYCHIATRIST: Our patients are miserable. It's beyond sadness. They spend most of their days just sitting there often thinking, you know, why can't I just die?
GUPTA: At first, patients are lightly sedated as Dr. Robert Gross drills two holes. With an instrument to guide him, he then inserts the electrodes. To make sure the electrodes are in the right spot, we can actually listen for neurons firing in the brain. The gray matter sounds like this. The white matter is silent. And that's where they want the electrodes. The white matter just below Area 25.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just confirmed that al electrodes are basically in the right place.
GUPTA: It was a procedure just like this done on Edie Guyton.
(on camera): What were the risks? What did they tell you?
GUYTON: Brain damage. Infection. Death.
GUPTA: Did you have second thoughts about doing this?
GUPTA: It was that bad?
GUYTON: It was that bad.
GUPTA (voice-over): Deep brain stimulation would change her life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the contact on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Contact's on.
GUPTA: You could see it happen when she was wide awake in the operating room with Dr. Paul Holtzheimer and Helen Mayberg.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you OK, Edie? OK.
GUPTA: As a benchmark, they asked Edie to rate her feelings on a scale of one to 10 starting with dread.
GUYTON: My sense of dread is getting worse.
GUPTA: Two minutes later, they turned on one of the four contacts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does it feel right now? Is it still high?
GUYTON: No, it's much less.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the dread right now?
GUPTA: A drop from eight to three. But doctors would soon get an even better result. Remember, before the surgery, Edie could not connect emotionally with her grand niece, Susan. Then they turned on contact number two.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just let me know if anything changes. Just give a shout.
GUYTON: OK. Smiling. I just almost smiled.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just almost smiled?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Describe that for us, would you, please?
GUYTON: I didn't smile. I haven't smiled before, like, in a long time. Or laughed.
HOLTZHEIMER: It brings tears to your eyes to see somebody that is in such pain. And then that goes away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say you almost smiled, did something strike you as funny or is it just sort of spontaneous?
GUYTON: It was -- well, I -- actually, I was thinking of playing with Susan.
I started thinking about Susan. Little Susan. And I thought, I was holding -- you know, she was -- I was holding her with her face to me. Right there in the brain surgery. I felt feelings that I thought were gone.
GUPTA (on camera): What is that like just to think that a machine and electricity could transform your emotions like that?
GUYTON: It felt fantastic. I didn't care what was doing it. It just felt great. GUPTA (voice-over): It's been five years. Edie is one of Dr. Mayberg's most dramatic success stories.
GUYTON: I don't feel good all the time. But this gives me the capacity that if I can, if there is joy in my life, I have the capacity to feel it.
GUPTA: But what exactly is going on? What is DBS doing to the brain circuits?
(on camera): What do we and don't we know about why this works?
MAYBERG: Well, to be brutally honest, we have no idea how this works.
GUPTA (voice-over): And if Area 25 is so important, why doesn't everyone get better?
MAYBERG: Maybe we're doing something wrong. Maybe it's not in the right place. Maybe they're not the right patient. That means we've got to understand the biology better.
GUPTA: Mayberg's research is part of this quiet revolution in medicine. In addition to depression, scientists are looking at DBS targets for obsessive-compulsive disorder, epilepsy, Tourette's syndrome and Alzheimer's.
In the meantime, Edie Guyton is thankful for her new life. With the battery pack delivering about 1/1000 of the power that a flashlight bulb uses.
(on camera): Do you feel any electricity or anything?
MAYBERG: I don't feel anything in my head at all.
Did you go off medication when you were pregnant?
GUPTA (voice-over): She's active with a mental health advocacy and support group. And she recently traveled to Italy with old friends from college.
MAYBERG: And that smile is real. I was OK.
GUPTA: It's only been an issue once.
MAYBERG: At the airport, I just go -- and I say -- and they say, pacemaker, and I say yes. And one time, I said actually it's brain electrodes and I'll never do that again. The woman who was patting me down like she was afraid I would explode.
GRIFFIN: Boy, you've got to love airport security.
A couple of final points. Dr. Mayberg and another doctor hold the patent on the procedure. This is still experimental. And FDA approval to make it widely available is at least several years away.
Well, that's it for this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Drew Griffin. Thanks for joining us.