Thursday, June 22, 2006
How I saved a Marine from a shrapnel-filled brain
Over the past couple of years, I have been firmly embedded in some of the worst places on earth: In the middle of the northern mountains of Pakistan after the earthquake; on the eastern shores of Sri Lanka after a tsunami; and in Charity Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Still, one of my most vivid memories was when I spent two months in the middle of the war in Iraq in the spring of 2003. With bullets whizzing around and shrapnel flying through the air, I always triple-checked my Kevlar vest and helmet anytime I might be in danger, which was pretty much all the time.
Having that equipment made me feel a little more comfortable in the midst of wartime dangers. So imagine my concern when I saw a young Marine corporal, Jesus Vidana, brought by chopper into the tent of the Devil Docs, a medical unit tending to injured soldiers, because his helmet failed to stop a bullet.
He had been shot in the head and shrapnel had sprayed throughout his brain. Twice pronounced dead, once in the field, once in the helicopter, he was in fact alive, but barely. Looking at his injuries, I could not believe he had been wearing his helmet.
Given my background as a trained neurosurgeon and Jesus' dire condition, I was asked to shift from reporting on events to participating. I performed an operation on Jesus that day, removing the shrapnel and the life-threatening blood collection that was placing pressure, too much pressure, on his brain.
In the middle of the desert, my next objective was to find something sterile to repair the outer layer of his brain. My only option was to open a sterile IV bag and flip it inside out. It worked. Jesus Vidana survived and is living today in southern California.
After the operation, I went and found Jesus' helmet to investigate what exactly had happened. Sure enough, there was a hole in the back of his helmet on the right side. Jesus had done everything right, but his equipment had failed him. Needless to say, it was unnerving for all of us as I showed that helmet to everyone in the unit.
For sure, designing protective gear is a difficult job. As with anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to changing the equipment. Not only should it be protective, but it must be relatively light. Not only should it be safe, but it should be able to accommodate the unforgiving nature of the desert heat.
For Jesus, everything worked out in the end, but what about the thousands of other Marines still fighting today? There's a debate raging about the adequacy of their protective gear. I am curious to hear your thoughts.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Going carless to save the planet
We hear so much about global warming, yet are often left wondering, "What can I do to help keep the earth cool?" Well, I met a family of five in Seattle that is living without a car for at least one year in order to help save the planet from global warming.
When 19-year-old Gary Durning totaled the family car, his parents made a deal with him and his two siblings. "If we didn't get a car, then we'd get cell phones, and for me that was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's so awesome,'" 12-year-old Kathryn Durning told me.
So the Durning family has stopped spewing greenhouse gases from a car and now commutes mostly by foot, bus or bike. Once in a while, they'll splurge and rent a hybrid car for $8 an hour. These are cars that neighbors can share once they buy into the "flex car" rental plan.
I asked Alan Durning if he really thinks one family can make much of a difference when it comes to global warming.
"Absolutely ... We're making a quantifiable difference because we're not burning anywhere near as many gallons of gasoline," Alan told me.
Alan figures his family is saving the planet about 4,000 pounds of pollution this year, since he says most cars emit roughly their own weight in pollution. He says it can only help what is a worsening situation in his part of the country.
Experts say the snow pack in the Cascade Mountains, which are just east of Seattle, has diminished by about 50 percent over the past 50 years. As temperatures rise, more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. Snow sticks around longer, giving a steadier supply of water. Rain doesn't help as much.
The result: Water rationing and a drought in Washington. If global warming continues, a lack of water could, in theory, even affect Seattle's energy supply, because about 90 percent of its power comes from hydropower dams.
We've all heard about Seattle's famous rainy weather. Well, that weather has made for a lot of wet commutes for Alan on his bicycle. He estimates he rides about 40 miles a week to and from work.
His wife, Amy, walks most places. She admits she's crazy, as a mother of three children, to give up the family car. But one advantage, she says, is that the kids can no longer argue in the back seat, because there isn't one.
To run errands, the Durnings use a baby stroller, which they call their "minivan." It has carried groceries, a broken vacuum cleaner, and even their son, Peter, to the doctor.
The Durnings say one of the best parts of this whole experiment is not only is it helping the planet get in shape, but they're getting in shape too. Together, Alan and Amy say they've lost about 10 pounds. On top of that, they're saving about $200 a month by living the carless lifestyle. They call this savings "walking around money," since, after all, they're doing a lot more walking.
Here's my question for you: Do you think you could live without a car for a year?
Monday, June 19, 2006
One-on-one with Angelina Jolie
When Angelina Jolie came into the room, just four days after returning from Namibia, she was alone. No handlers, no entourage. True, elaborate precautions had been made to make sure no photographers followed her to the hotel where we met, but there she was, by herself, walking into the hotel suite, smiling, ready to talk.
There are a lot of ridiculous stories circling on the Internet, spread by alleged "insiders" who claim that CNN or its parent company Time Warner somehow paid for the chance to talk to Angelina. These anonymous "sources" claim that People Magazine and CNN had some kind of joint deal to secure rights to photos and the interview.
I have no idea what People Magazine did or did not pay for those photos of the Jolie-Pitt family. It's been reported they paid as much as $4 million, which was donated to a variety of charities in Africa, but I have no way of knowing if that is true or not. What I do know is that CNN did not pay anything -- directly or indirectly -- to get Angelina Jolie to sit down for an interview.
So why did she do it? And why talk to me?
Both are valid questions. I'm sure there were plenty of news programs requesting interviews with Angelina Jolie. The truth is, mine wasn't one of them. They called us. I was told that they were aware of my interest in Africa and knew that as a broadcast we have devoted a lot of time to reporting stories from the continent.
Tuesday is World Refugee Day. Angelina Jolie was interested in discussing the plight of refugees, so we sat down to talk about what she has seen and learned in refugee camps around the world. She had no movie to promote, no product she was pitching. In fact, I have no idea what her next movie is and we did not discuss any upcoming films. There were no ground rules. I was free to ask whatever I wanted.
A lot of celebrities have causes and show up to talk about them when cameras are around, but the truth is that Angelina Jolie knows what she is talking about when the subject is refugees. To use a cliche, she doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She has traveled to some 20 countries over the years as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and she says she donates one-third of her income to charitable causes.
I'm not sure what I expected before I met her, but to say I was impressed would be an understatement. She is smart, funny, self-deprecating, and intensely passionate about her children and her work on behalf of refugees.
Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, you will hear Angelina Jolie talk about some of the experiences in refugee camps that have changed her life. Yes, you will also learn about Angelina's family -- Maddox and Zahara as well as Shiloh Nouvel -- but the focus of the interview is the plight of refugees. During the two-hour program, we will take you to the frontlines of some of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
It's going to be an interesting broadcast, and I hope you watch.