Return to Transcripts main page


Seau Had Degenerative Brain Disease; Flu Spreads, Deaths Mount; "Healthy Kid" Among Flu Fatalities; What You Need To Know About This Flu; Outrage Over Possible "Executive Order"; Court Considers Release Of Bin Laden Photos; Chavez Unable To Attend His Inauguration; Karzai In Talks At Pentagon This Morning; Sandusky Appeals Sex Abuse Conviction; Judge To Decide If Holmes Will Be Tried

Aired January 10, 2013 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Stories we are watching right now in the NEWSROOM. The nation's flu outbreak spreads. The death toll grows and at least one major American city declares an emergency. What you need to know in this scary flu season.

Plus this --


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The president is going to act. Executive orders and executive action can be taken.


COSTELLO: That comment has conservatives and gun supporters in an uproar. Some claimed the administration is about to infringe on second amendment rights, but what power does the president really have?

From magazine covers to morning television, you can't seem to get away from Chris Christie. Is it all part of a push towards Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016?

Silverlining's "Playbook," that movie could go all the way to Oscar. We are taking a look at movies that could walk away with Hollywood's top prize. NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with us. This just in to us this morning, two decades of hits to his head likely led to brain disease for retired NFL linebacker Junior Seau.

The all-star linebacker took his own life inside his California home last May. Seau's family donated his brain to the National Institute of Health. The scientists found Seau suffered from a degenerative brain disease.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon has been following this story and so sad. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We talked about this quite a bit. You know, you remember Dave Duerson. You remember Ray Sterling and Junior Seau, shot themselves in the chest. Duerson said he did it because he wanted his brain to be studied. That's what people say about Junior Seau as well.

It showed what I think people suspected it might, which is this thing called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. People didn't know what this was a few years ago, but now in just about all the brains that have been studied of these NFL players, most of them have shown this.

These are people who wanted their brain studied. They are a little bit of a biased group here, but clearly, it is a significant issue. And they've now categorized it into four different stages, stage four being anger, impulsivity, memory problems and depression. And these are all things that he had complained about while he was living.

COSTELLO: So the knocks to his head during his NFL career changed his personality too, right?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that that's -- what we've learned from this is the only thing that can really cause this problem, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is sort of an Alzheimer's like disease that strikes, you know, very young people is these hits to the head.

I saw some of this first-hand, Carol, went to the lab where they are looking at this. That chronic traumatic encephalopathy can be caused by concussions, but also can be caused by what known as the subconcussive hits.

Seau didn't have a lot of concussions, but he did have a lot of hits to the head and that's one of the points these researches now make. It's not just concussions, but just repeated blows to the head over a very long career.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you that like how many hits to the head and you get this condition?

GUPTA: We don't seem to have an absolute number because this is still relatively emerging science. A couple years ago, we weren't even hardly talking about this. But we do seem to know that the more hits to the head, the worse, which would make sense. The earlier they start, the worse it is.

I saw evidence of this in a person who was 17 years old, Carol. It can be quite significant. You see again the impact of those hits to the head, the swelling, the inflammation that can sometimes occur in the brain, a setup to the CTE.

COSTELLO: So I'm going to ask you a question maybe you don't know the answer to. The NFL, it says it is addressing this problem. Is it addressing it effectively?

GUPTA: It is hard to say. I think there has been some rule changes now to take away some of the most dangerous parts of the game. I think they have focused a lot on concussions specifically. If someone has a concussion, they are more likely to stay out of the game and get a sideline exam.

But these subconcussive hits, Carol, and you're a football fan. You watch these subconcussive hits. The guy bounces right back up seemingly no problem at all. It is those things, again, accumulating over time, that probably also need to be addressed.

COSTELLO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

Now, to the nationwide outbreak of the flu, today, it is growing wider and deadlier. At least 41 states have widespread cases ripping through homes, schools and businesses. New numbers coming out tomorrow will almost certainly be worse.

But the more frightening measure is how dangerous this year's strain is proving to be. Here's just a sampling, South Carolina reporting at least 22 flu related deaths so far this seaon. That is compared to only one fatality, one death for all of last year.

Health officials in Illinois, they say there are at least six confirmed deaths blamed on the flu. Last year, there was not a single one. In Massachusetts, there are at least 18 flu-related deaths. In fact, Boston has now declared a public health emergency because there are ten times as many flu cases compared to last year.

One of the deaths, a big, strapping healthy kid from suburban Dallas, Texas, Max Schwolert, got really sick on Christmas night. Despite being hospitalized, his health and life slipped away in just a matter of days.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has his story.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Schwolert family was getting ready for a joyful Christmas when on December 21st, 17-year-old son, Max, started feeling sick, tired, fever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never really got super sick.

COHEN: Two days later, he was feeling better, played in the snow on vacation in Wisconsin, celebrated Christmas with his family, but Christmas night, Max felt sick again.

MELANIE SCHWOLERT, MAX MOTHER: He had excessive like 104.9 fever and we could not break it.

COHEN: The next morning, his parents took Max to the hospital where he was diagnosed with the flu.

TOM SCHWOLERT, MAX'S FATHER: Within 30 minutes, the doctor was like there is something really wrong here. His kidneys are starting to fail.

COHEN: Max was rushed by helicopter to a larger hospital.

MELANIE SCHWOLERT: One of the last coherent things he said, he looked at me and there were tears rolling down his face.

TOM SCHWOLERT: He was scared.

MELANIE SCHWOLERT: He was scared. He said mom, I'm scared. I said, I know, buddy. I am too. Then, he saw me crying and he said, it's going to be OK. You are going to be OK. I love you. That's the last really coherent things that he said to me.

COHEN: Within 24 hours, Max went from feeling OK to intensive care.

MELANIE SCHWOLERT: His organs were shutting down and they were completely baffled of what was happening, what would attack him so quickly.

COHEN: His parents prayed for a miracle.

MELANIE SCHWOLERT: I remember putting my hands on his heart and I would feel his heartbeat. I just knew how big it was, you know.

COHEN: Four days later, Max died, a young man whose nickname was Panda, 6'4", big and gentle, played golf, goofed on his sisters, taught Sunday school. After Max died, the Schwolerts drove home to Louisville, Texas, waiting in their mailbox, an acceptance letter to Max's first college choice.

Tom and Melanie want Max to be remembered for how he loved God, life and the people around him. They've sold more than a thousand "love to Max" T-shirts. The money will go to a charity in Max's memory and the memory of his huge, loving heart.


COHEN: Max was completely healthy before he got the flu. I know when parents see this, they think, what would I do? What could I do if my child got the flu to make sure that this didn't happen to my kid?

The truth is, sometimes there is nothing you can do. But there are some red flags that you can watch out for. First of all, if a child or anybody gets better and then worse, that's not a good sign, that's what happened to Max.

The flu actually started to go away. A secondary bacterial infection set in on top of that. Also, if a child is extremely lethargic, that's a bad sign too, if they don't want to do anything except sleep.

And thirdly, if a child or adult is confused, that's also a sign to get to medical help. Having said this, most kids are OK when they have the flu. When they get very, very sick, they go downhill very fast, just like what happened with Max -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Elizabeth Cohen reporting live for us this morning.

We want to take a look at what you should know about the flu and its dangers. Dr. Bill Schaffner is a professor at Vanderbilt University. He chairs the Department of Preventative Medicine. Doctor, welcome.


COSTELLO: It's nice that you're here because that story we just heard from Elizabeth Cohen is quite frightening. At what point do you take your kid to the hospital?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it's exactly as Elizabeth said, if you really think that your child is very sick, if they are lethargic and not responsive, if they are not eating, if they have a high fever, a persistent cough and an adult more likely than a child if that cough turns productive. If they are confused, any of those things that make you think this is a real serious illness.

COSTELLO: Would a flu shot have necessarily saved him?

SCHAFFNER: The influenza vaccine is a good vaccine, but it is not perfect vaccine. It works better in young, healthy people than it does in older persons. It is the best vaccine we have, but there are cases of influenza that occur despite immunization.

They are often of benefit because they can prevent some of the complications. It makes a more serious infection somewhat milder, but it's not a perfect vaccine. But it is the best that we have and if you haven't been vaccinated, quick, run out and get vaccinated. Take advantage of whatever protection there is available.

COSTELLO: I just want to, you know, blow up some myths, because I hear people say them all the time. One, the flu vaccine, it makes me sick. I got the flu vaccine and, geez, I came down with the flu.

SCHAFFNER: That is a myth. You can get a bit of a sore arm if you get the injection. If you get the nasal spray variety, you can have a sore throat for a day and a runny nose, but you can't get flu from the flu vaccine.

COSTELLO: OK, and if I already have the flu, am I inoculated? Will I get the flu again?

SCHAFFNER: Well, you don't really know if you have had the flu most of the time because it hasn't been specifically diagnosed. By and large, if you have gotten the flu once in the season, don't get it again. Don't rely on it. We should all get vaccinated. You know, there are so many other respiratory illnesses that lay people call the flu, which isn't the flu.

COSTELLO: A last question, because I heard it this morning right here at CNN. It is January. It is too late to get the flu shot.

SCHAFFNER: It's not because influenza is going to be with us into February and even beyond. If you haven't been vaccinated, please, take advantage of the benefits of the influenza vaccine. Run, do not walk, get the vaccine. Protect yourself and everyone around you.

COSTELLO: Dr. Schaffner, thank you so much.

SCHAFFNER: My pleasure, Carol. Stay healthy. COSTELLO: All right, this news just in to CNN, new information about Wal-Mart and the meeting today in Washington on gun violence. An Obama administration official telling CNN Wal-Mart's representative will meet only with Attorney General Eric Holder and not with the vice president. Remember, Wal-Mart was originally not going to attend the meeting at all but changed its mind yesterday.

When it comes to ending gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden made it very clear if Congress doesn't pass new gun laws, the president could go it alone, as in bypass Congress and issue an executive order.


BIDEN: The president is going to act. There are executive orders and action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet. We are compiling it all with help of the attorney general and all the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action we believe is required.


COSTELLO: Gun rights advocates took Biden's remark as a threat charging it is the first step in stripping Americans of their second amendment rights. Listen to Rush Limbaugh.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: So when Biden, himself, a liberal Democrat, says himself, the president, cabinet, attorney general, a bunch of leftist Democrats are talking about using executive orders. When you say for what? It could only be to take guns away from people. Who knew that an executive order could trump a constitutional amendment?


COSTELLO: He is not the only one. Look at what Republican Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said. He said this, quote, "The founding fathers never envisioned executive orders being used to restrict our constitutional rights. We live in a republic, not a dictatorship," end quote.

CNN's White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is in Washington this morning. What does Joe Biden mean by issuing an executive order?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know. I mean, he didn't spell out all the details of what exactly that means other than that it is a tool that the president has at his disposal to get things done quickly.

As you know, over the last few months and certainly the last few years as well, in the fiscal fight, you have seen how there have been challenges in moving things along quickly on Capitol Hill.

So while the administration believes there is the legislative track that can move forward, such as extending the ban on assault weapons, they also believe there are other options that the president can use in order to get things done quickly to prevent further violence.

That's why you heard the vice president say, that is one thing they are looking at. He said that they didn't know what it was at the time, but they are talking about it with the Justice Department to figure out exactly legally what the president can do.

COSTELLO: Executive orders happen all the time. I'm talking about executive orders pertaining to guns.

LOTHIAN: They do. You know, obviously, any time you start talking about issues such as gun control and what the president can do on his own, it's quite controversial. You look back over time back in 1989 when there was a shooting in Stockton, California, George H.W. Bush, issued an executive order banning the shipment of certain assault weapons.

And then former President Clinton in 1998, he banned the import of assault weapons that had been modified, issued an order banning those assault weapons. This is something presidents have done in the past and not just surrounding weapons. This is what presidents can use for a whole host of things.

In fact, President Obama during his first term has issued 144 executive orders, former President George W. Bush issued 291 executive orders over two terms. It is something that president's use. Every time they do, there is always some controversy, a lot of questions about the executive orders that presidents put out there.

COSTELLO: Dan Lothian, reporting live from Washington this morning.

It's a surprise move in Colorado where the defense for James Holmes decides not to lay out its case in his preliminary hearing. A judge must decide if Holmes should stand trial for the shooting deaths of 12 people last summer as new photos come out, creepy photos, from Holmes' cell phone.


COSTELLO: It's 18 minutes past the hour. Checking our top stories now, should photos of Osama Bin Laden's body and burial at sea be released? The Federal Appeals Court is hearing arguments about that issue today. Judicial Watch has been pushing to get the photos out. The conservative legal group has said the government hasn't proven the photos could damage national security.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will not be able to attend his inauguration ceremony. Chavez is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba and battling complications. Chavez's party have called for supporters to show up in front of the presidential palace for a rally.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is conducting high level rounds in Washington this week. He is at the Pentagon this morning talking about U.S. troop presence in his country after next year's planned withdrawal of combat forces. Karzai will meet with Secretary of State Clinton later today and President Obama tomorrow. Jerry Sandusky back in court today hoping to get his child sex abuse conviction overturned. Sandusky's attorneys are going the court did not give them enough time to prepare for trial. The judge will rule on the appeal at a later date.

Tomorrow, we'll know if the man accused of a mass shooting inside an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre will go on trial. James Holmes preliminary hearing ended Wednesday, two days earlier than expected. The defense called no witnesses.

Prosecutors showed several photos taken Holmes' phone including self- portraits and images taken from inside the cinema several weeks before 12 people were killed. Casey Wian is outside the courtroom in Centennial, Colorado, with more. Good morning.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. You know, earlier, you used the word creepy to describe cell phone photos taken by James Holmes that were taken yesterday. That is the exact appropriate way to describe them.

The first four photos were somewhat innocuous except for the fact that they were clearly photos designed to case the movie theatre where the shooting happened. Two of them were inside the theatre. One of them even showed a close up of the door hinge.

You will recall he propped open one of the doors to go out and get weapons according to prosecutors. The other two photos were outside exterior photos around midnight, which is the time the shooting happened. The other eight photos were taken inside his apartment, very, very disturbing.

In four photos, he had black contact lenses in his eyes and contrasting that with his bright orange hair made him look very, very menacing. He was grinning and had his tongue sticking out. Other photos showed some explosives that he used to booby-trap his apartment.

And the final photo taken hours before the shooting spree was of his bed and on top of the bed was all of the tactical gear he was wearing, vests, helmet, leggings, including all four weapons that he had, an assault rifle as described by police, a shotgun and two handguns. Here is what one family member of a victim had to say after seeing all the photos.


CAREN TEVES, MOTHER OF ALEXANDER TEVES: From where I was sitting, I could see his face. I could see his eyes. I could see his expression. He was delighted to see himself on the screen.


WIAN: Now, of course, prosecutors showing these photos and displaying the time they were taken in an effort to show that there was a lot of planning that went into this massacre -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So another question for you, Casey. Why did the defense change its plans and not begin laying out its case?

WIAN: You know, hard to tell, because the defense put up a strenuous fight for the right to call a couple of witnesses who had previously cooperated with law enforcement to testify about Holmes' mental state. They did decline to call those witnesses. I can read you what public defender, Daniel King, had to say about the decision.

He said this is neither the proper time for us to put on a show or some kind of truncated defense. That's all we know about why they didn't call witnesses -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Casey Wians reporting live for us this morning. Still ahead in the NEWSROOM, your chance to talk back on one of the stories of the day. The question for you this morning, should the president issue an executive order on guns? or tweet me @carolcnn.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk about on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, should the president issue an executive order on guns. Even before his gun task force met, Vice President Joe Biden, dropped a bomb. In short, Congress, if you don't act on gun control, the president will.


BIDEN: The president is going to act. There are executive orders and executive action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet. We are compiling it all with help of the attorney general and all the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action, we believe, is required.


COSTELLO: As soon as the vice president uttered those words, it was as if lightning had struck.


LIMBAUGH: They wish they had the power to take guns away. If Biden says himself, the president, cabinet, attorney general, all a bunch of leftist Democrats are talking about using executive orders, when you say for what? It could only be to take guns.

LARRY PRATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, "GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA": I would advise Mr. Obama to consider what happened to George III when he was doing similar things against the American colonists.


COSTELLO: The drudge report announced the news by showing images of Hitler and Stalin. Let's step back from the edge, shall we, for just a second and examine what an executive order might really mean.

In 1989 after a mass school shooting in Stockton, California, President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, issued an executive order banning the shipment of certain assault weapons unless used for sporting purposes.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton's executive order banned the import of certain assault weapons that had been modified. It is not likely President Obama will issue a total executive issue banning guns.

They are meant to execute existing laws. Even if he puts in further edicts, they are still edicts. So the talk back question for you this morning, should the president issue an executive order on guns? or tweet mere @carolcnn. I'll be right back.