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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Operating with the 'Devil Docs'

CNN's Sanjay Gupta in the mobile operating unit
CNN's Sanjay Gupta in the mobile operating unit

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CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, traveling with the 'Devil Docs' reports how doctors are performing surgery on the fly in terrible conditions -- as he experiences firsthand. (April 5)
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AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked with CNN anchor Heidi Collins Saturday about front line surgery under tough conditions.

COLLINS: Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with the medical unit known as the "Devil Docs." They are south of Baghdad right now and he joins us from there this morning. Good morning, Dr. Sanjay.

GUPTA: Hey, good morning, Heidi. It's been really busy here. We're with the Bravo surgical unit that is responsible for taking care of a lot of the casualties that you and I have been hearing about -- that everyone has been hearing about -- from the front lines.

Over the last two days, not even two days, about 44 hours now, they've taken care of close to 100 patients, everything ranging from heat stroke to bullet wounds to the head. We've seen a lot of that.

Behind me now is a 6-year-old child and this is one of the horror stories of war, one the things that these doctors cannot avert their eyes from. They're responsible for taking care of children like this. He had a piece of shrapnel that went across his face and did unbelievable damage to his face. The doctors have been able to secure an airway.

The kid is breathing well now, on his own. Shortly from now, a helicopter will land and take this child to a more definitive care facility. He came in by medivac helicopter and was brought in along with another relative.

As you can see from some of the video there ... doctors literally pounced on him, got him straightened out, brought him into this triage area and ... secured an airway. Difficult images for all of us to look at, but these are some of the pictures of war and some of the doctors who repair the wounds of war. That's what you're seeing. Back to you, Heidi.

COLLINS: Incredibly difficult. I know one of the challenges for the Devil Docs has been that they don't have a neurosurgeon on staff. Obviously, that is what you are in your practice and I know you were called to the table, so to speak, again today. Tell us a little bit about that.

GUPTA: Yeah, Heidi. Certainly as journalists, we came here to cover the story, not to be the story. As you mentioned, they don't have a neurosurgeon here, a surgeon who does primarily head and brain work. Twice now, there have been patients that have come in with significant head injuries from bullet wounds.

Today, a gentleman came in, probably in his mid-40s, with a significant bullet wound to the right side of his head. He had a lot of damage with bleeding around the brain. They came to me, asked me if I would be willing to take a look at the patient and actually operate on the patient.

Medically and morally, I thought that was the right thing to do. I'm happy to report that patient did very well after that operation and is already been medivaced from here to another location for more definitive care, but certainly his life was saved.

These are some of the success stories. I play a small part. These doctors over here play a very large part. Lots of success stories and they're reveling in that and waiting for whatever else might come.

COLLINS: What are the biggest challenges that you face? Obviously, these are nowhere near normal operating procedures or actually conditions that you work in, or you are used to back in the United States. We have heard about the sandstorm and the sterile conditions. What is the biggest challenge?

GUPTA: It is hot, up to 110 degrees [Fahrenheit] here today and operating in non-air-conditioned operating rooms, sometimes in full garb and also a lot of dirt and sand. In addition to that -- the operating rooms are well-equipped, but for example today when we were doing this procedure for the gunshot wound to the head, we had to make do with the instruments that we had. So really, I was basically looking around the room saying, "OK, let's try these instruments over here. Let's try this particular material to try to create a closure over here."

It's trying to make the best of what you can with scarce resources, and having said that, I will say it is truly remarkable in a way what they do have. This is a totally mobile operating room and the operating rooms are designed to be mobile so they can move with the troops and support the troops as soon as they come off the front line.

So it's a little bit of both, but just every day, you look around and remember that you're in the desert. It's hot, there's lots of dirt and there are sandstorms and helicopters throwing up dirt coming in and out of here all of the time. If you think about that, it's really remarkable what they're able to accomplish, despite all of that. Heidi?

COLLINS: Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the Devil Docs, thanks so much.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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