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One-on-One With Kathleen Sebelius; The Heart of Dick Cheney; Thirteen-Year-Old Aims To Stop Bullying

Aired October 26, 2013 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Two big news making interviews to get to today including my candid conversation with former vice president Dick Cheney about his heart. You're going to hear about this unprecedented move he made right after taking office.

But first, the president's new health care law. You know, Congress started hearings this week why the Web site is such a mess, people have been talking about this and Kathleen Sebelius whose Health and Human Services Department runs the site wasn't at this hearing. But she is going to be at the big hearing which is next week.

More people, not just opponents of Obamacare, but a few supporters as well, are now calling on the president to delay the individual mandate, this idea that people must have insurance or pay a penalty.


GUPTA: The concern is if there's this idea that people had a hard time signing up and they didn't get signed up for whatever reason on time, can they still be penalized? Can you penalize people if it was so cumbersome to get signed up in the first place?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think the reality is that people, as I just said, can sign up any of three ways and more are being able to do it every day --

GUPTA: Does it mean the Web site is not that important, then?

SEBELIUS: It is certainly a tool and we think it can be an easy tool for people who are tech savvy and want to use a Web site and we're determined that it be a lot easier than it is right now. What I know, though, and -- is that lots of people and people I talk to every day are not tech savvy, want a live human being to sit and answer questions, want to talk to someone over the phone, want to talk to their friends and neighbors about what health care providers in the network and then go back and ask some questions.

So, we anticipated at the outset that everyone would never use the Web site. That needs to be part of the opportunity. The market is at the end of the day what it is. This isn't the Web site. It's about health care and about affordable plans.

GUPTA: So just, yes or no, is there any way that the individual mandate would be delayed? SEBELIUS: Well, I don't think that that really is the question right now.

GUPTA: Did you try signing on the site myself?

SEBELIUS: I have created an account on the site. I have not tried signing up because I have insurance.

GUPTA: You have insurance. Did you find it challenging? What did you think of it?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think there are certainly some challenges. It could be smoother. It could be easier to access and that's really what we're working on. I mean, nobody says the site is working the way we want it to. Certainly the president acknowledged that yesterday. No one could be more frustrated than I am, and the president, that this isn't smooth.

People are signing up every day. People have available coverage. And no one, I think it's important to say, Sanjay, is losing coverage now. The earliest the plans start is January 1st. If you sign up by the 15th of December, you will have coverage on day one.


GUPTA: Like the secretary said, if you're getting new coverage, you need to enroll by mid-December in order to have that coverage in place by January 1st. I'll tell you, there's been some confusion about this deadline, the deadline to avoid paying a fine. Shortly after my interview the White House issued this guidance to clear it up, if you don't already have insurance, you do have until March 31st to sign up with the plan.

But do keep in mind that aside from the Web site you can apply by phone, that's going to take up to three weeks to get confirmation, and that's before you can browse plans to figure out your actual cost. And even after that, it takes time to make a smart choice.

So, if you're signing up, the point is you don't want to wait for this until the last minute. You can also see more of my exclusive interview with Kathleen Sebelius at

But up next on SGMD, from the truth is stranger than fiction department, Dick Cheney. He tells me about the surprising move his doctor made to protect his heart from terrorists.


GUPTA: You know, most people have a pretty strong opinion of Dick Cheney. Whatever you think of him, you may be surprised to know over the past 35 years, he's had five heart attacks, open heart surgery, a heart pump, even a heart transplant at the age of 71. All of this is revealed in a new book it's called "Heart", he's written with his cardiologist Jonathan Reiner. He was so concerned about his health that two months after taking the oath as vice president, he took this unprecedented action. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Basically, what I did was I resigned the vice presidency effective March 28, 2001.

GUPTA: So nearly, for your entire time as vice president, there was a letter of resignation sitting there.

CHENEY: Pending.

GUPTA: Pending.

(voice-over): Cheney discovered there was no provision in the Constitution to replace a vice president who is alive, but incapacitated. So he drew up a letter of resignation to give to the president.

CHENEY: It says, "In accordance with Section 20 of Title Three of the United States code, I, Richard B. Cheney, hereby resign the office of Vice President of the United States --

GUPTA (on camera): How did President Bush react when you told him about this?

CHENEY: A little surprised. But he thought it was a good idea.

GUPTA (voice-over): It was just three years ago Cheney says that people gasped, when they saw how frail he had become. Today, just 20 months after his heart transplant, Cheney's weight is back to normal, the color has returned to his skin -- he has no shortness of breath.

(on camera): How are you feeling?

CHENEY: Fantastic. Now I'm to the point where-- I literally, you know, feel like I have a new heart. A lot more energy-- than I had previously. There aren't any real physical limits on what I do. I fish, I hunt. And-- I don't ski, but that's because of my knees, not my heart. So it's been a miracle.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dick Cheney is a product of modern medicine at its best. He has suffered five heart attacks, undergone open heart surgery, multiple catheterizations and angioplasties, had a defibrillator implanted, and a pump attached directly to his heart -- all of that before his transplant at age 71. Each time Cheney reached the precipice of death a breakthrough in medical technology extended his life.

Bad hearts run in Dick Cheney's family, and early on he did little to take care of himself. He had his first cigarette at age 12, and by the time he was President Ford's chief of staff at age 34, his daily staples included fatty food, beer and up to three packs a day.

CHENEY: All the cigarette companies donated cigarettes in a white box with gold trim around it embossed with the presidential seal. That was kind of, if you were in a cocktail party, or maybe even Washington, and whipped out your presidential cigarettes and lit it up with a park of matches from Air Force One, that was sort of a status symbol.

GUPTA: After his first White House stint, Cheney returned to Wyoming to run for Congress. At just 37, his genetics and his lifestyle caught up with him. He suffered his first heart attack, and doctors thought he should quit the race, but he didn't want to hear it.

(on camera): You were pretty persuasive because, I mean, they said, "it would be wise to drop out of this at the present time."

CHENEY: They said that in the medical records.

GUPTA: They didn't tell you that?

CHENEY: Well, I don't recall. What I took away from the conversations was that key phrase is "hard work never killed anyone."

GUPTA: Patients like to hear what they want to hear.

CHENEY: And that may well have been the case here, as well, too. But they also emphasized that stress comes from doing something you don't want to be doing.

GUPTA (voice-over): He won that election and five more after that, but his heart disease was steadily progressing. By the time Cheney took over as the first President Bush's secretary of Defense in 1989, he'd suffered three heart attacks and undergone quadruple bypass surgery. It was a time of global upheaval. And Dick Cheney was in the center of it all - the collapse of communism, the uprising in China's Tiananmen Square and the first Gulf War.

CHENEY: Our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines prepare for one of the largest land assaults of modern times.

GUPTA (on camera): Looking back, do you think the stress affected your heart disease and your overall health?

CHENEY: I simply don't buy the notion that it contributed to my heart disease. It was in fact that getting back to work, getting back to that job, whatever that job might be, was important enough that I, in fact, kept them separate, I guess would be the way to think about it. GUPTA: But I do wonder, as a doctor, is that really plausible? Can you really keep such a significant medical history and such a significant job separate?

CHENEY: I did.

GUPTA (voice-over): But when George W. Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate in 2000, there was enough concern that the Bush campaign sought out the opinion of world renowned Texas heart surgeon Denton Cooley.

After speaking with Cheney's cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Dr. Cooley told the Bush campaign that Cheney was in good health with normal cardiac function.

(on camera): The normal cardiac function wasn't true. CHENEY: I'm not responsible for that. I didn't know what took place between the doctors.

GUPTA: This idea that you have this respected heart surgeon from Texas who didn't see you, didn't examine you, and then writes something saying that you have normal cardiac function. That just wasn't true, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Go ask Denton Cooley about that.

GUPTA: But sir, you saw it.

CHENEY: Listen to me, I think the bottom line is: was I up to the task of being vice president? And there's no question. I think based upon the fact that I did it for eight years that they were right.

GUPTA: How were they able to say that you were able to do the job?

CHENEY: The way I look at it, Sanjay, is that first of all, I didn't seek the job. The president came to me and asked me to be his vice president. The party nominated me. The doctors that consulted on it reached a common conclusion and the people elected me.

Now what basis do I override the decision making process? Do you want to have an offshoot where we come check with Sanjay Gupta and say, "Gee, is he up to the task?" That's not the way it works.

GUPTA (voice-over): Despite Cheney's insistence that he was fit for office, and just four months after being cleared by his doctors, Cheney suffered another heart attack, his fourth.

CHENEY: It was there and it was chest discomfort. Sufficient so I thought I ought to check it out.

GUPTA: This time it came while the country was embroiled in the 2000 presidential recount. Cheney needed a stent to prop open a clogged artery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you read to take the oath of office?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please raise your hand and repeat after me.

GUPTA: Yet again modern medicine had helped Dick Cheney dodge a bullet. But it was just nine months later when Cheney confronted, what he considers, one of the biggest challenges of his life: 9/11.

With President Bush in Florida, Cheney was in a bunker under the White House helping make decisions, even given authority by the president to shoot down passenger airliners.

(on camera): I mean as far as stress goes, and again, as a doctor - with your heart history, how worried were you about just your health in the midst of all this?

CHENEY: Didn't occur to me.

GUPTA: Not at all?

CHENEY: No. I didn't think about my health. I was thinking about the problem we were dealing with.

GUPTA (voice-over): But what Cheney didn't know was that his cardiologist Jonathan Reiner had received the results of a blood test that morning showing his potassium levels were dangerously high, a condition called hyperkalemia.

(on camera): Big concern, I mean, how big are we talking about?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CARDIOLOGIST: Potassium of 6.9 can kill you.

GUPTA: This is a huge problem.

REINER: Yes. I laid awake that night, you know, watching the replays of the towers come down and now thinking that, "Oh great, the vice president's going to die tonight from hyperkalemia."

GUPTA (voice-over): Another blood test the next day showed Cheney's potassium levels were normal. But this level of scrutiny over Dick Cheney's health is a reminder he is no ordinary patient. And caring for him often required extraordinary precautions.

In 2007, when Cheney needed his implanted defibrillator replaced, Dr. Reiner ordered the manufacturer to disable the wireless feature -- fearing a terrorist could assassinate the vice president by sending a signal to the device, telling it to shock his heart into cardiac arrest.

REINER: And it seemed to me to be a bad idea for the vice president to have a device that maybe somebody on a rope line or someone in the next hotel room or downstairs might be able to get into -- hack into. And I worried that someone could kill you.

GUPTA: It might sound farfetched, but years later this scene from the Showtime drama "Homeland" showed just how it could be done to the fictional vice president.

(on camera): What did you think when you watched that?

CHENEY: Well, I was aware of the danger, if you will, that existed but I found it credible because I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible.

GUPTA (voice-over): The precariousness of Cheney's physical health raises questions about his state of mind when he was helping make decisions, including those about war and peace.

(on camera): You were instrumental in many big decisions for the country, including going into Afghanistan and Iraq.

CHENEY: And terrorist surveillance programs and enhanced interrogation programs--

GUPTA: Terrorist surveillance programs, wiretapping, enhanced interrogation. You'd had had four heart attacks, three catheterizations at this point, a defibrillator, bypass surgery.

CHENEY: Right.

GUPTA: Did you worry about your physical health impacting your judgment and your cognition?


GUPTA: Not at all?


GUPTA: Were you the best you could be?

CHENEY: You know, I was as good as I could be, you know, given the fact I was 60-some years old at that point and a heart patient.

GUPTA (voice-over): Cheney didn't want to acknowledge numerous studies that show a significant connection between severe heart disease and memory loss, depression, a decline in decision-making abilities and impaired cognition. Or that he could be one of the many patients vulnerable to these side effects.

(on camera): Did they talk at all about potential side effects because of limited blood flow to the brain, on cognition, on judgment? Was that something that you had heard about in any way?

You didn't know about it and you weren't worried about it?


GUPTA: Both? No one --

CHENEY: I wasn't worried about it.

GUPTA: Did anyone counsel you at all on that?

CHENEY: Not that I recall.

GUPTA: What about even things like depression?


GUPTA (voice-over): And that's all he wanted to say about that. But what Dick Cheney was eager to talk about was his transplant, detailed in his book, "Heart."

CHENEY: When you emerge from that gift of life itself, there's a tremendous feeling of emotion, but it's very positive. I think my first words when I came out from under the anesthetic when they said it had worked great was, "Hot damn." Literally.

GUPTA: Cheney and Dr. Reiner wanted to show us just how dramatic his transformation has been.

This is an image of Cheney's ravaged and diseased heart just moments after it was removed.

REINER: This is a rather large basin. And here is your heart.

CHENEY: It's the one I lived with for 70 years.

REINER: A normal heart would basically be about the size of two fists clamped together like this, maybe even a little bit smaller. And you see this is about half a foot wide.

GUPTA (on camera): Old heart, new heart.

CHENEY: Old heart, new heart. Its one of those situation where bigger isn't necessarily better.

GUPTA (voice-over): That's because a bigger heart can't effectively pump blood through the body.

The X-ray on the left shows Cheney's enlarged heart - twice the normal size and pushing on his other organs. On the right, his new heart.

And then there's this comparison -- again on the left, Cheney's diseased heart - weakened, with narrowed arteries. And his new heart -- with healthy vessels and no blockages.

CHENEY: Dramatically displays how sick I was.

GUPTA: Today, Cheney says he's taking good care of his new heart. He spends much of his time back in Wyoming with his family -- and playing rodeo hand to granddaughter Gracie.

CHENEY: You wake up every morning with a smile on your face because you've got a new day you never expected to have. And there's a sense of wonderment. Nothing short of magical.

GUPTA (on camera): You know, magical, wonderment, you're words. Those aren't words you typically hear, or expect to hear from you --

CHENEY: Like Darth Vader. No, that's -- well, those are the words I choose to describe it.


GUPTA: There's another message from Dick Cheney as well and that's important for all of us: if you're having any symptoms at all, make sure to get them checked out. It's part of the reason he's alive today.

We're going to be right back with one little boy, one massive goal: bullying, no way.


GUPTA: A decade ago, Jaylen Arnold became the youngest person ever diagnosed with complex Tourette's syndrome. Today, he's leading the charge to put an end to bullying for students across the country.


JAYLEN ARNOLD, HAS TOURETTE'S SYNDROME: I'm Jaylen, and I have Tourette's syndrome. And I used to get bullied for that a lot.

GUPTA (voice-over): Cool, calm, confident. Thirteen-year-old Jaylen Arnold is on a mission to banish bullying for all.

ARNOLD: I've felt the pain of being bullied. And I know I've been bullied bad, but I know there are over 100 kids that are being bullied 100 times worse than I was.

GUPTA: You see, he has Tourette's syndrome. It's a neurological disorder which causes respective movements and sounds called tics.

ROBIN ARNOLD, MOTHER OF JAYLEN: Jaylen began ticking at the age of 2. We went through several doctor appointments. Pediatrician was like, oh, my goodness, I think this is classic Tourette's case. He was only diagnosed at 3 because in order to be diagnosed with Tourette's, they have to on the behavior for one whole year.

GUPTA: Jaylen's mom Robin uploaded a video to YouTube hoping it would help children and parents alike better understand her son's disability.

The video has racked up around 200,000 views. And it also captured the attention of actor, Dash Mihok, currently starring on the hit series "Ray Donovan."

DASH MIHOK, ACTOR: I was a fighter.

GUPTA: Together, Dash and Jaylen captivate their student audience working with Jaylen's Challenge Foundation to put a stop to bullying.

MIHOK: I'm here because I have a young brother named Jaylen Arnold, who reminds me of me as a kid. He has a message to bring to the world and doing it at an age that I wish that I had had the bravery to step up and reach as many people as he does.

ARNOLD: And we came up with Jaylen's Challenge because I wanted to stand up. I wanted to do something, make a difference.

It hurts to think about how much torture and how miserable a kid's life can be just because one person is causing them to feel that their self-esteem and that they're worthless.

MIHOK: We going to bullying, no way?

CROWD: Bullying, no way!


GUPTA: I tell you, if you are a parent out there, bullying is one of those things you can't stop thinking about. Here's the bracelet, by the way, that Jaylen created, again, bullying, no way. Great message. Now, before we go, Thursday is Halloween and for my three girls at least, that means candy, candy, and more candy. I'm a pretty diligent dad. But you know what this means.

Here's something else to consider: on October 31st, the average child consumes the equivalent of 4,800 calories, 1.5 1/2 of fat, and three cups of sugar. Just think about that.

I want to give you some tips on how to have a healthier Halloween. Eat dinner as a family before you trick-or-treat. Makes perfect sense. Walk your route instead of hopping in the car. Also, give your kids a deadline for enjoying their candy and then toss out what's left over or freeze it for later. That's what we do in our home.

That's all the time we have for today.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Don Lemon continues after a quick break.