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Flu Spreads with a Vengeance; Killer Whale Trapped in Ice; Hall of Fame Shutout; Post-Sandy House Surprise Renovation

Aired January 10, 2013 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The flu virus, it is running rampant. A surge of cases and a major U.S. city declaring a flu emergency.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The veep and the NRA. Vice President Biden hosts the powerful gun lobby group just hours from now in Washington.

BERMAN: And a really wonderful surprise. A couple who lost their home to hurricane Sandy sets eyes on their new house, thanks to some really hard working and great volunteers.

SAMBOLIN: You're going to meet that lovely couple.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you this morning. Thirty minutes past the hour.

Nasty, severe cases of flu are spreading with a vengeance, and this is across the United States. The CDC's latest flu advisory suggesting 41 states are dealing with widespread activity. More than 220 people hospitalized.

The hardest-hit states, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Each reporting 22 flu-related deaths.

Massachusetts declaring a medical emergency there, 700 confirmed cases in Boston. That's since October. And the rates, 10 times higher than what they saw last year.

So, let's bring in CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She is in Flower Mound, Texas, with details of one fatal case.

Elizabeth, what happened?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, sometimes we forget, Zoraida, that the flu can kill even healthy people.

So I spent yesterday with a Schwolert family. Their 17-year-old son, Max, he attended the church behind me. On December 21st, he started not feeling well. Now, Max was a perfectly healthy kid. His parents thought, OK, so it's a virus. He then got better.

A couple days later he was fine for another couple days and then he started to get worse. His parents brought him to a hospital. They were on vacation. It was a small hospital and they said his kidneys are failing and we need to get him out of here to a larger hospital.

They put him on a helicopter. As he was getting on the helicopter, this is what he said to his mother.


MELANIE SCHWOLERT, 17-YEAR-OLD SON DIED AFTER CONTRACTING FLU: One of the last coherent things he said, he looked at me and there were some tears rolling down his face.


SCHWOLERT: He was scared. He said, mom, I'm scared. I said, I know, buddy, I am too.

And then he saw me crying. He said, mom, it's going to be OK. You're going to be OK. I love you.


COHEN: Now, when Max went to that hospital, he went straight to the intensive care unit and four days later, he died. He died of a bacterial infection that had set in after the flu. But he died because he got the flu.

And his parents now and others have built this memorial, "Love to the Max," to celebrate his life.

SAMBOLIN: From those pictures it looks like that's their only son as well. So, a lot of parents are watching this, Elizabeth, and they're scared about their own children. So what can we do to make sure that this doesn't happen? Because this is a seemingly healthy child. No compromised immune system.

COHEN: No, no compromised immune system. Unfortunately, this happens much more than you would think.

So, I want to first say that when kids get the flu most of the time they do just fine. They're sick for a few days and then they're better. However, sometimes bad things happen. When they happen, they happen very quickly.

Here's a few things to look for. If your child gets better and then gets worse, which is what happened to Max, that's not good. It means that perhaps a secondary bacterial infection has set in, seek medical care right away.

Also, if your child is really lethargic and I mean really lethargic, only wants to sleep, doesn't want to get out of bed, that's another sign things could get very bad very quickly.

Same thing if your child is confused. You know, as a parent, I always err on the side of caution. Talk to your pediatrician, talk to them often. Even if they tell you it's just the flu, don't worry about it, keep going back and keep calling if you feel something is wrong.

What doctors tell me is that mom and dad in this case really are the best doctors. If your child is not acting normally for your child, that's a huge red flag.

SAMBOLIN: That's absolutely fantastic advice. Did Max have a flu shot?

COHEN: Max did not have a flu shot. I talked to his parents about that. And they understand that people should get flu shots.

But they also noted that when they were on vacation, they were in a house with 15 relatives, and many of those relatives had had flu shots and they still got the flu.

So while I always say get a flu shot, it's so important, I also want to be honest and say it's only about 60 percent effective, 6-0 percent effective. So get it because it's better than not getting a flu shot but it's not a guarantee that it will keep the flu away.

SAMBOLIN: Elizabeth Cohen, senior medical correspondent -- thank you so much for that medical information.

It's so brave of that family to come forward and share while they're grieving to help save lives.

BERMAN: An important warning.

It's 35 minutes after the hour. Taking a look at the top CNN trends this morning:

Joe Biden and his gun violence commission preparing to meet face to face this afternoon with the NRA. The vice president also making it clear that the president is considering using executive orders for some measures to bypass Congress and the gun lobby to enact some new gun control measures.

SAMBOLIN: After months of speculation and second guessing, we're about to find out who the Oscar nominees are. Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is one of the films certain to be nominated for best picture, as is "Zero Dark Thirty" about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The nominations will be announced in Los Angeles just two hours from now.

And our special Oscar coverage with Soledad O'Brien and "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT'S" A.J. Hammer begins at 8:15 Eastern. Of course., we'll bring you the nominations live.

BERMAN: Save the thimble, protect the hat. Hasbro, the Monopoly, says it's replacing one of the game's tokens with one that's more representative of today's monopoly players. That means, you know, one of the pieces they have now wants to go and the company wants fans to vote on Facebook for the piece they want to save. Voting ends February 5th.

SAMBOLIN: What is the new piece?

BERMAN: They haven't said yet.

SAMBOLIN: I want to know. Somebody in my ear just said the iron should go. I'm going to agree.

BERMAN: As long as they save the hat, I'm cool.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's a race against time to save whales that are trapped by ice. We go inside the rescue effort with an expert, coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, illegal use of the hands. A basketball fan caught on camera cross the line.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to talk to him. Is he just pushing him back in?


SAMBOLIN: Thirty-nine minutes past the hour.

Soledad O'Brien joins us with a look ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Lots happening this morning right at the top of the hour.

Vice President Biden and his task force will sit down with the NRA today. Will they get anywhere on the efforts to curb gun violence, or could the president bypass the NRA and Congress to do it himself? We'll talk this morning with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and also New York Congressman Joseph Crowley.

And he's known as the dog whisperer. Cesar Millan is here to talk about his new show and his new book which talks about simple tips on how to train your dog but also his own personal struggles as well.

And, of course, you guys have been talking about it all morning. Yes, drum roll please, John Berman. Who will walk away with the nomination? Will it be Hugh Jackman? Will it be (INAUDIBLE)?

Oscar nominations will be announced at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. "Showbiz Tonight's" A.J. Hammer will join me as we look at all the nominees in a live special that begins at 8:15 a.m. on "STARTING POINT."

BERMAN: It's a big, big moment here. Nominations live as they're happening.

O'BRIEN: We should put money on it. Can we do that? Yes, let's bet.

BERMAN: I bet it's "Lincoln."

SAMBOLIN: Sure. I'm all for it.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to go with "Django Unchained."

SAMBOLIN: I love "Django," but I don't know. I think it's a long shot.

O'BRIEN: I know, I know.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to win a lot of money.

BERMAN: All right. We have a pool going. We have a pool going.

All right. Forty minutes after the hour right now.

We have a sad and yet absolutely striking image to show you from the frozen edges of Canada. Eleven killer whales are trapped, surrounded by ice on all sides and they're running out of time. The orcas are taking turns jumping up through that small hole in the ice to breathe.

And today, the Canadian government is sending experts out to see if there's anything they can do to help save these whales. The problem is the nearest ice breaker crews are a day and a half away. The whales are stranded near a small Quebec village on Hudson Bay.

I want to bring in an expert on this subject. William Hurley is the senior vice president and chief zoological officer for the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. That's one of the biggest aquariums in the world.

Let me start off by simply asking how precarious is this situation right now for these whales?

WILLIAM HURLEY, GEORGIA AQUARIUM: Well, you know it's terribly difficult for them and it's distressful to watch as humans when we see these animals struggling to breathe and looking for a way out. It doesn't look good. These things do happen a lot in the Arctic, but it doesn't look good.

BERMAN: How long can they survive like this?

HURLEY: Well, you know, they're air breathing mammals so the question of being able to have air is the most important things. And I've read that some of the locals have an interest in trying to feed the animals which is probably not as helpful at this point in time.

But they're probably not going to be able to do this for very long if this ice continues to grow closer and closer. They're definitely going to have to take off and look for somewhere else to breathe.

BERMAN: That's the biggest threat, that the ice will continue to freeze over and they'll lose the hole they have right now.

HURLEY: Without question. And, you know, when you talk about ice breakers and you talk about chain sawing ice blocks, you're also talking about adding a lot of noise to these animals' environment and many times that will cause them to panic and want to take off and that also would be very detrimental.

BERMAN: There's a lot of talk about why these whales are here to begin with. It's an unusual location for this time of year.

HURLEY: Well, you know, we're seeing a lot of changes in the Arctic. And in this case it looks like these animals were probably looking for food and found themselves in a place they wouldn't normally be exploring and Mother Nature took a turn and brought the ice in quickly.

This is one of the number one killers for marine mammals in the Arctic areas. It's just that we didn't used to have iPhones in places where we could spot them as frequently as we do today.

BERMAN: Now, we know the ice breakers, the ships, are about a day and a half away. Is there anything else that we know that can be done to help them?

HURLEY: Well, we certainly have had some success with certain ice hole situations where we've been able to create sort of leap frog holes for the animals to escape and follow but that certainly counts on them following you, and in many cases they won't do that, they'll try to stay away from you.

So, other than keeping that hole open or creating a few more, there's not a lot human can say do given the depth and remote nature of where these animals are.

BERMAN: There's a famous case that a lot of people remember. I remember it from when I was in high school, from Point Barrow, Alaska, where there were whales trapped in the ice there. They just made a movie out of it, "Big Miracles," the Drew Barrymore movie right now.

And their -- the local people, they cut these rectangles out and they made a long, long path for the whales to swim to safety. Two of the whales survived there. I mean, are there lessons from that famous case that can be applied here?

HURLEY: Certainly, it's an effort that can be made. In that circumstance while two of the animals did survive, there's certainly many other stories where people have tried to use this type of strategy and found that the animals just absolutely took of and were never seen again. So, it may be the last-ditch effort, but it doesn't mean that's always going to be the successful route.

BERMAN: All right. William Hurley from the Georgia Aquarium -- thanks for joining us this morning. We're certainly pulling for these whales. The pictures are stunning but sad at the same time. Thanks very much.


SAMBOLIN: Wow, you know, what he said that is most surprising to me, I guess, is this happens so often yet we don't know about it because we're not monitoring with our phones and stuff. So, very sad. I hope they make it, you know?

All right. Forty-four minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to- date this morning on our top stories.

President Obama tapping his White House chief of staff to be the next treasury secretary. The nomination of Jack Lew is expected to be announced this afternoon. Lew is considered a budget expert. He's had two stints as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai will receive full military honors when he visits the Pentagon this morning for a meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He is expected they will -- or it's expected that they will discuss the American troop situation in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission officially ends next year.

BERMAN: All right. So, it won't take long to cover the entire list of new inductees to baseball's Hall of Fame because there are none. One of the big reasons, of course, the steroid era. Baseball writers voted to keep Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa out of the Hall of Fame for now.

I think the biggest injustice was the former Astros second baseman, Craig Biggio. He came the closest, however, falling just 39-vote short. I think next year, he will get in.

SAMBOLIN: (INAUDIBLE). But check out this fan getting a little too close to the action during last night's college basketball game between Nevada, Las Vegas, and New Mexico. Look. All right. So, he shoved UNLV guard, Anthony Marshall, after he stepped out of bounds while chasing a loose ball. Fortunately, the ref was able to restrain Marshall and the fan was escorted out of the building.

BERMAN: Not a good idea to shove the players when you're watching the game.

SAMBOLIN: I was wondering if he's just kind of like helping him get back in, but it does look like -- in slow mo, it looks like a shove.

BERMAN: Forty-five minutes after the hour right now. New Jersey's Newark star ledger, Tony Soprano's hometown paper, you might say, says some Italian-Americans are upset at "Time" magazine's latest cover which shows Governor Chris Christie in a mug shot-like pose and there's the headline that says "The Boss."

Even Christie took issue with the cover on "Imus in the Morning," suggesting it made him look like a mob boss. I guess, you could say they were talking about Bruce Springsteen, but I'm not quite so sure about that. We should say that "TIME" magazine is own by the parent company of this network.

SAMBOLIN: So, from the heartbreak of losing their home to hurricane Sandy to the surprise of beholding their brand new house, it was all built by volunteer hands. The grateful couple joins us live from Breezy Point, New York, and that is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, New York City. It is 42 degrees right now. A little bit later, 45 degrees. A bit of a heat spell for us here.

So, we're about to introduce you to Burt and Jeanne Metz. They are 80 years old. Jeanne is a two-time cancer survivor, and just two months ago, their home in Breezy Point, New York, was lost to hurricane Sandy. It was flooded out. When volunteers from Operation Blessing came along to tell them they'd gut the house for them, they felt blessed.

But the volunteers actually redid the entire home. They did it in three weeks, and they surprised Metzes





SAMBOLIN: Burt and Jeanne Metz are here today with us. They are in front of their completely fixed home. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it. Jeanne, I want to start with you because the look on your face, you were not expecting a full renovation, were you?

JEANNE METZ, HOME DESTROYED BY HURRICANE SANDY: Not at all. Not at all. We were just so blessed that Operation Blessing was helping us. We never dreamt they would go to this extent. It was amazing.

BURT METZ, HOME DESTROYED BY HURRICANE SANDY: And gorgeous. The house is absolutely gorgeous.

SAMBOLIN: We're watching video right now as the two of you are talking to us about the house. Tell us about what you saw when you walked in and how it was different from your original home.

JEANNE METZ: It was so much more modern and all the new appliances. They made it a home for us. We cannot believe. I thought they were interior decorators come in to do it.


JEANNE METZ: But it was all Operation Blessing and the talent of these people that dedicate their time.


JEANNE METZ: It's an amazing process.

SAMBOLIN: It was a whole host of volunteers.

BURT METZ: They did a wonderful job.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. We're looking at the pictures that look incredible.

JEANNE METZ: Hundreds.

SAMBOLIN: I understand --

JEANNE METZ: It's amazing.

BURT METZ: It is amazing.

SAMBOLIN: I understand that you sold your primary residence in Brooklyn last year to help an ailing family member and that you actually invested your life savings into this home and then the storm hit it. So, what does this mean for the two of you?

JEANNE METZ: Well, at first we were extremely devastated, and then, our faith kicked into place and we just knew somehow we would survive, but we didn't really know how. And we had a builder come and help us, but unfortunately, he had a heart attack and didn't complete the process of the work he was supposed to.

So, then, we survived that and when hurricane came and wiped out some of the things that were newly done, we were truly devastated. And we, to this day, can't understand what made our car go to the tent that said Operation Blessing. And my daughter went in, in front of us, with my other daughter and said, what? We really need help.

BURT METZ: We need help. And we did.

JEANNE METZ: Desperately.

BURT METZ: We need a lot of help because we're not in a condition to do the hard type of work that had to be done. And these people would come down and just did everything.

JEANNE METZ: Young people, old people.

BURT METZ: Volunteers.

JEANNE METZ: Just willing to do anything that would help. It was very humbling and awakening experience.

SAMBOLIN: It's so nice to hear your story and to see your faces and the happiness. And Jeanne, I know you're a two-time cancer survivor. You mentioned this huge volunteer effort. There were people even from your community that helped to rebuild your home. So, are we having a big open house? A big party to celebrate?

JEANNE METZ: Well, eventually, I hope to do something to say thank you in some small way. Never can you do all that you feel you really have to do. We feel we've been so blessed, and we just can't believe all this has taken place.


SAMBOLIN: I cannot tell you how happy we are for you.

BURT METZ: Unbelievable.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, look at that. So sweet.

JEANNE METZ: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you for sharing your story with us and all the pictures.

JEANNE METZ: Thank you so much.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, no. We appreciate having you this morning. Burt and Jeanne Metz. Good luck to you, and we're very excited for you this morning.

JEANNE METZ: Thank you.

BURT METZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, we've been talking Oscars all morning, and I think the Academy Award for the absolute cutest couple in the history of America goes to Burt and Jeanne Metz. I love them. Will you, guys, come like hang out with me sometime? You're the cutest couple I've ever seen ever.

SAMBOLIN: -- to the party if we have, right?


BERMAN: That's fantastic. And I am so glad they got the help they needed. All right. That is so nice to hear.

Today's "Best Advice" straight from the U.S. Senate is coming up.

And then, later on "STARTING POINT", we're going big on the Academy Award nominations. Soledad is joined by A.J. Hammer, and we'll have the announcement live from Hollywood. It's all right here on CNN.


BERMAN: Just a few minutes before the hour right now. And as always, we wrap it up with "Best Advice."

SAMBOLIN: Ms. Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And today, it comes from Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.


SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: My parents were obviously my greatest role models and they always told me, always be kind, always be honest. Treat people with kindness. And if you treat them honestly, it's a pretty good way of going through life.


ROMANS: Honesty is the best policy.

SAMBOLIN: That's exactly what went through my mind.

ROMANS: Speaking of honesty, what are your picks for the nomination today?

SAMBOLIN: Speaking of honesty.


ROMANS: Be honest.

SAMBOLIN: I loved "Django" and I loved "Life of Pi" also, two very different movies and long shots, both of them, but I would pick "Django."

BERMAN: I liked "Argo" more than I like "Lincoln," but I think "Lincoln" is going to get the most nominations for sure, which is good. It's a good movie.

SAMBOLIN: You're being safe.

BERMAN: I'm not being safe. It's true.

SAMBOLIN: How about you?

ROMANS: I have some movies to see. I've seen none of them.

BERMAN: Look, I like "The Avengers" most of all, but I don't think it's going to get nominated.


BERMAN: I'd love to see the Hulk get Best Actor, but I don't think that's going to happen.


SAMBOLIN: All right. We want to hear your predictions and your opinions on the Oscar nominations. This is what you can do. Go to "STARTING POINT's" blog. It is So, we're asking for your picks for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture, not the Hulk. And if you're tweeting, it's #cnnNOMS. Keep in touch with us throughout the morning. We really want to know who you pick and if you end up picking who's going to be the winner --

BERMAN: And you can vote for the Hulk if you want.

SAMBOLIN: No, you can't.

BERMAN: Yes, you can. All right. That is all for EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.