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Former POW Shares Story; Daughter of 9/11 Victim Rebuilds a Life; Couple Faces Birth Defect Potentially Caused by Infertility Cure

Aired December 24, 2003 - 20:30   ET


PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Good evening and welcome. Glad you could join us on this Christmas Eve.
Tonight, we're going to bring you some of our favorite moments from the past month, stories of devotion, hope, and gratitude. We're going to meet a father who gave up everything in order to save his children from a disease that has no cure. The story of his determination to find a treatment was stunning.

Also my interview with former president George Bush, less a former commander in chief than a father standing by his son. He told us how he takes the criticism of his son much more personally than he ever did when he was president.

And the story of the man Private Jessica Lynch calls the real hero. His actions may have saved many American lives on the day Lynch was captured. He tells us an amazing story about how he used chewing tobacco to get his captors sick.

Plus, we'll add some humor to your holiday with a visit from Dave Barry, who did his best to embarrass me.

First, here's what you need to know right now.


ZAHN: We begin tonight with a remarkable story that will touch your heart. At the center of it is a father of three named John Crowley. When two of his children were diagnosed with a rare and debilitating disease, he made it his life's work to find a cure. What he did and how far he was willing to go is truly amazing.


JOHN CROWLEY, MEGAN'S FATHER: Yay, Megan. You think that's funny. You're smiling. Yeah?

Megan's first year of life, she was completely normal. At about 9 months that we noticed she was not doing the things that she should be doing to reach that next milestone.

EILEEN CROWLEY, MEGAN'S MOTHER: How are you doing, Meg?

JOHN CROWLEY: Pulling up in the crib, trying to take her first steps.

EILEEN CROWLEY: I couldn't understand why she wasn't doing these things, but, oh, maybe just because she's a girl.

ZAHN (voice-over): John and Eileen Crowley, then parents of 2- year-old John, didn't have much experience with baby girls, but they did know something was wrong with theirs.

JOHN CROWLEY: That's when we went to the pediatrician with these concerns, and then he referred us to a neurologist.

ZAHN: After several blood tests and biopsies, doctors diagnosed Megan with Pompe disease, a rare neuromuscular disorder caused by a defective or missing enzyme. Without it, a sticky substance builds up in the muscles, and they degenerate. The prognosis, grim.

JOHN CROWLEY: In the course of one day, you go through the shock, the grief, the denial. In that meeting, the doctor had told us earlier that day that Megan wouldn't live to be 2, and she was 15 months old at the time. And he told us there was very little or no research going on.

Six months after her diagnosis, she came down with a pneumonia, and had to be put on a ventilator in the hospital. And her heart stopped beating, and she stopped breathing three times in three days.

When she refused to give up, that's when we looked at her in the intensive care unit that night, and said, OK, kid, you want to fight, we'll fight too.

ZAHN: They were also fighting for their second son, Patrick, who was diagnosed at 3 months old. Megan and Patrick's health quickly spiraled downhill. They couldn't sit up, eat, walk, or breathe on their own.

With no treatment to turn to, John quit his job as a financial consultant to start his own company devoted to creating a treatment.

JOHN CROWLEY: Megan, she knew what Daddy was doing, even from the time she was 2 or 3 years old. She knew that Daddy was working with some other great people to help find her special medicine.

ZAHN: He found promising research. But despite $27 million and a growing staff, John needed the muscle of a large drug company. He partnered with Genzyme, a biotech company. It was already working on treatments.

But still, drug testing and approval takes time, the one thing Patrick and Megan didn't have.

JOHN CROWLEY: Their muscles were getting weaker and weaker every day. Every day was a lost chance to make them better.

EILEEN CROWLEY: It's incredibly frustrating. I kept saying, Can't you just steal it and bring it home, you know? But that doesn't work that way. ZAHN: Initially, the kids didn't meet the strict criteria for the first drug trials. Then, ironically, the career John had created to help his kids got in the way. Hospitals wouldn't allow his children into subsequent trials, citing a conflict of interest.

So with the clock ticking, John stepped down.

JOHN CROWLEY: It's like having the ball ready to cross the goal line, and then just keep trying and trying and trying. And next thing you know, it's fourth down, and you've got one more shot at it.

ZAHN: Their last shot came from Dr. Debralyn Day Salvatore (ph), a genetic researcher, who finally designed a trial that the Crowleys could participate in. The kids would finally get their dad's special medicine.

JOHN CROWLEY: That's it.

You know, we finally pressed the button, and it was so emotional, it was just an amazingly quiet, tense moment right after the enzyme started to flow. So it was an emotional day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Megan, you're in room three, right here on your right.

ZAHN: Now they get their infusion every two weeks, and it's working. For 5-year-old Patrick, it's been a slow journey, but for 6- year-old Megan, great strides. Her heart, once twice the size it should have been, has shrunk to normal. She can now sit up, raise her hand, smile, even dream of a future as a teacher, a dancer, even a nurse.

JOHN CROWLEY: I remember she was sitting in the bed there in the hospital, and I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a hug and just a kiss. And I told her, I said, You know what, Megan? You're going to grow up to be an old lady now. And she just whispered in my ear and said, she just whispered in my ear and said, Thank you.


ZAHN: An update on the Crowley's. The children are still taking their father's special medicine, and clinical trials on the drug continue, as does John Crowley's mission to find a cure.

Now on to the story of daring rescue at the South Pole. There at the bottom of the earth, a man named Barry McCue was stricken with a potentially fatal disease. With time quickly running out, a team of rescuers braved the brutal weather conditions to save his life.

In October, as McCue was recovering in Chicago, he told us how his incredible survival story unfolded.


BARRY MCCUE, RESCUED FROM SOUTH POLE: The first attack was on August 25. I -- it just came out of the blue. My stomach hurt just a lot. Took me awhile to realize I was in trouble. I finally decided I had to go see the doctor.

When I went in there, he immediately saw, here is this pale white guy, weak in his knees. Took me and found out exactly what was wrong, took him a couple hours. And he determined it was my gall bladder that was inflamed. And it was gangrenous at the time. So I...

ZAHN: And so you basically were told you had to get out of there if you were going to stay alive.

MCCUE: Well, at that point it was stable and it was OK. I had another attack a week later, and a couple days after that, my kidney took a hit from the infection. And at that point, there was a huge conference that went on.

They had this telemedicine system, and they broadcast that they had surgeons in Galveston and Boston and Denver, all looking at my ultrasound online realtime. And they determined that I had a real serious gall bladder problem, and that if it got any worse, I -- it would be fatal.

So they put -- started putting together a plan to extract me. Now, this is in the middle of the winter. There's no sun, it's minus- 90 degrees, the winds are blowing, you got blizzards on the coast. And so they had to plan this in a very careful and controlled manner so that nobody else got hurt.

ZAHN: And how acutely aware were you of this, this, this very small window of opportunity your rescuers had?

MCCUE: I was actually very aware of it. Understanding the weather, understanding the impact of the cold becomes a part of your daily life when you're at the South Pole. It's a real part of your environment.

ZAHN: Now, at the same...

MCCUE: It's a little different.

ZAHN: Yes, at the same time that you're worried about whether this rescue mission is going to work or not, you had to be concerned about the welfare of your children back home. You had lost your wife not long before that from a terrible, terrible tragedy.

MCCUE: An automobile accident, yes.

ZAHN: What did your kids know about your condition?

MCCUE: Actually, they knew quite a bit. The doctors were -- and again, the ones in the States, the ones at the Pole, were all communicating. The RPSE, the Raytheon physician, was in constant communication with my daughters, updating them both to the status of the medevac and to my status. She probably knew more about my status and the medevac than I did, being there at the Pole, they were keeping her so well informed.

ZAHN: And Barry, when you look back at the miracle of your rescuer, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your rescue, itself, what was the most challenging part?

MCCUE: The hardest part was me staying calm, a little fatalistic, understanding the best people in the world were doing the best they could do in the harshest environment in the world to get me out. There was a lot of heroes that did a lot of work to get me out of there.

ZAHN: Did you think you might die there?

MCCUE: It was there, but, like I said, the -- you had the best, the dice were going to roll, the best were working on it, so I didn't worry about it, I just hoped.


ZAHN: Doctors say McCue is now healthy and completely recovered. McCue is looking forward to spending the holidays with his children.

A presidential candidate, his wife, and their openly gay daughter. As we share with you some of our favorite moments from the past few months, we'll see their first TV interview together.

And a young girl's battle to overcome the loss of her father on 9/11. We'll see how she's recovering.

Also, some humor to spice up your holiday from columnist Dave Barry.


ZAHN: Images of presidential candidates with their families are a must for any campaign. But this year, Democrat Dick Gephardt took the bold step of including his openly gay daughter, Chrissy, in his campaign.

Gephardt, his wife, Jane, and their daughter sat down with me for their first television interview together.

And what struck me most about the interview was just how open the Gephardts were in discussing their daughter's sexuality.

I started off by asking Chrissy if she was hesitant to play such a public role in her dad's campaign.


CHRISSY GEPHARDT, DAUGHTER: I was a little hesitant about coming into the campaign in such a public role, but I thought about it, and I thought about the impact that I would be having. And then I also thought about, you know, obviously, my dad's going to make the best president. And so it was an easy decision to make after I took about a month to think about it.

ZAHN: Although you knew, once you went public with your homosexuality, that that could potentially be a lightning rod for criticism. How much did you have to weigh that in your calculation? CHRISSY GEPHARDT: Well, I definitely did. I mean, it was a concern, but I thought that the good outweighed the bad, and the difference that I could make for my father on his campaign and across the country for all gay and lesbian people, I thought, far outweighed any negative things that could happen.

ZAHN: Jane, tell us a little bit about what your reaction was when you heard from Chrissy for the first time that she was gay.

JANE GEPHARDT, WIFE: Well, you know, Paula, I really wasn't that surprised. There had been some signs that sort of indicated that, you know, her marriage was in trouble, and that she was spending an awful lot of time with this young woman, a classmate of hers. So when she finally did tell me, I was not entirely shocked by the news, I have to be honest.

ZAHN: But as a mother, how concerned were you when she decided to play this active role in the campaign, knowing that you would be pelted with some negative e-mails and letters?

JANE GEPHARDT: Well, our first concern, I think, was for Chrissy, you know, that she would not be hurt. You always want to protect your children because you love them so much, and that was our first concern, is her welfare. It wasn't so much how it would affect the family as much as how it would affect her.

ZAHN: And Representative Gephardt, I know you have said when you were growing up, homosexuality was considered abnormal behavior. But you learn as you go through life. What have you learned from Chrissy?

DICK GEPHARDT (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I've learned that I love my daughter more than anything in the world, that she is our first priority. I didn't want her to be injured in any way. But I've also learned that we haven't gotten to where we need to be in this country with discrimination against gays and lesbians, no more than we have with the minorities. And we got a long way to go.

ZAHN: And Chrissy, your father just acknowledged that society has a long way to go. And I know you have spent a lot of time lobbying him when it comes to the issue of gay marriage, which you're in favor of and he's opposed to you, opposed to. How are you doing on the lobbying front, you going to change his mind?

CHRISSY GEPHARDT: Yes, you know, I think I'm actually coming pretty close. I think he understands the issue. He's listening to me. And I think he understands now that it's about equal rights for all people. And I think I'm making headway.

ZAHN: Is she, Representative Gephardt?

DICK GEPHARDT: She'll always make headway.

ZAHN: Yes, but you're not coming clean on whether you're going to go for it or not.

DICK GEPHARDT: Well, you know, I think we got a big agenda in front of us. We got to get hate crimes legislation passed. I've thought that for a long time. We got to get an anti-discrimination bill passed for gays and lesbians. And we got to, you know, recognize in federal law civil unions. We have one state that allows civil unions. And we got to make sure that people that are in civil unions are treated equally.

So, you know, somewhere down the road, things may change, but right now, that's an agenda that we -- I would be happy to try to enact as president.

ZAHN: So your daughter clearly has had an effect on some of the policies you've embraced.

DICK GEPHARDT: When you learn, you learn best through your own experience, through your own family. And when things happen in your own life, you understand it more than you ever could before. And we've learned through Chrissy, we love her and her partner, Amy, and we're having a great time in this campaign trying to get these issues across.

ZAHN: And Representative Gephardt, if you don't win Iowa, is it all over for you?

DICK GEPHARDT: I'd rather think of it this way, Paula. I'm going to win Iowa, that's for sure. And I'm going to win this nomination, and I'm going to beat George Bush, because I have bold but realistic ideas that will solve the major problems that face this country.


ZAHN: Chrissy Gephardt and her mother will continue to travel the U.S. on the congressman's behalf.

We're looking back at some of the most memorable moments from the past few months, including my interview with former president George Bush. A look at a father standing by his son.

Also, a look at whether test tube babies run a higher risk of developing birth defects.


ZAHN: We turn now to my interview with former president George Bush. It aired during our first week on the air.

In our conversation, the former president touched on many subjects, some personal, some political. And you'll see he has a great sense of humor. But when you hear him talk about his son, the current president, George W. Bush, you hear a man who is not speaking as a former commander in chief or a World War II hero. He is a father standing by his son.


FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH: I'll tell you something, it hurts more when one of your own be in office or not, is criticized than when I was criticized. Much, much more. It's much more painful to be me and to Barbara too.

But the president says, Don't worry, Dad, don't worry about it. And he's probably right. I said, I read this such-and-such an article. Don't read that stuff, you know. It's not that he's an escapist, but he doesn't want to see me concerned, I think.

ZAHN: So you really think it's possible for a parent to internalize this more than your son, who is under this incredible pressure right now.

BUSH: Well, there's no question, enormous problems. But I know now what I've known all along, that he's strong and that he can bear the burden, and that he's doing this all for, I would say, the right reasons, serving for the right reason. So I have that underlying feeling of confidence, but in his strength and in his character, his ability to carry on through difficult times.

If didn't know him personally like that, I would say, How can anybody take the pressure that's on in these various theaters around the world, the various problems we face? But he's got good people, and he's strong. And he'll do OK.

ZAHN: How seriously do you take what you read about him?

BUSH: Well, I get mad...

ZAHN: You say sometimes you feel that...

BUSH: ... I talk back...

ZAHN: ... you have.

BUSH: Yes, I talk back to the TV set.

ZAHN: Do you throw stuff?

BUSH: No, I don't throw anything. But I have total control of the clicker in our family. And Barbara gets furious at me, but I just turn the damn thing off if I don't like it. Or then I'll go back, sneak back, and see what this so-and-so is saying. Doesn't do any good, incidentally.

ZAHN: It doesn't?

BUSH: No, it doesn't. You don't feel much better for it. And it's really juvenile. But what the heck, I'm only 79.

ZAHN: I know in one of our last conversations, you talked about how you feel -- or at least during the campaign, you felt everything you thought your son was feeling at the time. Is it that way now, during his presidency?

BUSH: Well, except he -- you know, he -- I saw a friend of his the other day, a friend of mine came to stay with us here, and he said, Your dad told me to tell you -- your son told me to tell you not to worry so much.

So, I do. I am concerned, I do worry, but I think the point is, it doesn't do much good, and he doesn't. He -- you know, he just keeps his head down, makes a decision, leads. And if the polls say this or that, heck with it. He just goes and does what he believes in his heart is right. And he...

So I worry more, but it doesn't do any good. No, it doesn't do any good.


ZAHN: My interview with former president George Bush.

Coming up, we're going to meet the man Private Jessica Lynch calls her hero, as we continue our look back at some of the highlights from the past few months.

Also, one man's personal journey from staggering loss and tragedy to redemption.

And some humor from Dave Barry, including his own plans for the White House.


DAVE BARRY, HUMORIST: I've been running for president for quite a number of years now. Pre -- I'm not one of those weenie candidates that drop out just because the electrical college votes. I keep going, year in, year out.


ZAHN: We continue now with a look back on this Christmas Eve at some of the stories that have touched us the most over the last few months.

It has been a memorable year for one young woman from West Virginia Private Jessica Lynch, an American hero. But we're going to hear from the soldier she says is the real hero.

Also, a novelist uses his own life as the basis for his newest work. It is a harrowing tale of tragedy and personal triumph.

And a family story from another writer, Amy Tan, on how she overcome depression and disease to write about her family and a relationship with her mother.

But first, here's a look at what you need to know right now.

KAGAN: Happy holidays. I'm Daryn Kagan.

Let's go ahead and check the top stories.

There will be no Air France flights going in and out of Los Angeles today or tomorrow. The terror threat has seen to that. French authorities say they consulted with U.S. officials over information sufficiently worrying to ground the aircraft.

The U.S. is on high alert because of intelligence reports that al Qaeda wants to strike during the Christmas holiday.

Several U.S. service members someday will be able to tell their grandchildren they received phone calls from president of the U.S. on Christmas Eve. Mr. Bush phoned today from Camp David to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, and on the high seas.

Federal health officials say only five states have escaped widespread flu. The CDC reports the disease reached widespread status in 10 states just since last week. The season's flu outbreak has killed at least 42 children.

We are tracking the news. More in just a bit. Right now, back to PAULA ZAHN.

ZAHN: Jessica Lynch topped the headlines for much of the year 2003. The dramatic story of her capture and rescue was turned into a book and was also the subject of a TV movie. And for millions of Americans, she is a hero.

But ask Lynch who the real hero is, and she will say it's a 23- year-old Army mechanic named Patrick Miller. The Army private first class was in Lynch's convoy, and he shared his incredible story with us in his first national interview.


PFC PATRICK MILLER, U.S. ARMY: I didn't join the military to win medals and that kind of stuff. I joined to -- because that's what I wanted to do at the time.

ZAHN: And you certainly did your job that night. It is true that during this whole encounter, eight Iraqis were shot. You admit that you weren't much of a marksman. In fact, you had a jammed weapon that night.


ZAHN: How'd you survive?

MILLER: There's a forward assist that pushes the boat forward because my round would fire, but it would eject the casing. But it wouldn't push the next round all the way into the chamber, so I had to push on the forward assist to get the bolt to push the round all the way into the chamber.

ZAHN: And once you survived that, of course, you were captured and taken prisoner. And I understand you did just about anything you could do to drive your captors nuts. What did you do?

MILLER: I tried to do a little bit of everything. When they first captured me they found my can of chew and tobacco and asked me what it was. And I guess they don't have chewing tobacco over there, so I told them it was candy. ZAHN: Did any of them try it?

MILLER: A couple of them tried it.

ZAHN: Did they get sick?

MILLER: Ended up throwing up, seeing their breakfast again.

ZAHN: Well, that must have just delighted you.

MILLER: I was trying not to laugh too much, because I didn't know what would happen if I started laughing at them for throwing up.

ZAHN: Don't you feel you were lucky to be alive and the fact that you could actually at a point when your life was at risk and you could die at just about any minute, that you could laugh at that little trick you pulled.

MILLER: It was one of them deals you had to laugh inside. You couldn't really laugh right at them because you didn't know what they'd do. It was that and then the radio frequencies that were in my Kevlar. I told them they were prices for power steering pumps.

ZAHN: And they believed it?

MILLER: And they believed them and threw them in the fire, they had a little fire they had going.

ZAHN: They were pretty stupid, weren't they?

MILLER: Apparently.

ZAHN: Well, you were lucky that they weren't swifter than that. Private Miller, we really salute your bravery. And we are just delighted to honor your heroism this evening.

MILLER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Good luck to you.

MILLER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks for sharing your story.


ZAHN: September 11, 2001, changed the lives of Americans forever, especially those who lost loved ones in the attacks.

Young Hillary Strauch's father was one of the victims. When he died her world was turned upside down. Two years later Hillary is trying and fighting to rebuild her life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of this child.

ZAHN: Hillary Strauch made her family believe in miracles.

GINNY STRAUCH, WIFE OF 9/11 VICTIM: It was 15 years from day we were married that we found out that Hillary was on her way.

ZAHN: George and Ginny Strauch had tried unsuccessfully for ten years to have a baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give your dad a big smile.

ZAHN: Hillary was their miracle and instantly became daddy's little girl.

STRAUCH: On the weekends we would always go to the beach. And he was trying to teach me how to play golf, but, I mean, we never got that far.

ZAHN: September 11th, 2001, changed it all.

HILLARY STRAUCH, DAUGHTER OF 9/11 VICTIM: My teacher pulled me into the nurse's office, and he told me one of the towers had collapsed and not to be worried because my father had called my mother and said that he was OK.

I went on with my day like normal. And I knew something was wrong and I was worried. After school, came home and everybody was at my house. It was like a big party, but it wasn't a happy one.

ZAHN: Hillary looked for her miracle.

H. STRAUCH: Every day I would pray and tell God -- if he would please give me my dad back. But really inside I knew he was gone.

I was sad. I was depressed. I knew if I stopped I would just shut down. I wouldn't get anything done. I would be crying all the time, so I just kept going.

G. STRAUCH: She tried to be a good girl. She tried her best to make my life easy and not get me upset.

ZAHN: Like thousands, Hillary had to grieve very publicly. Perhaps because she was from a small town, her tragedy stood out even more, especially at school. She felt alienated.

H. STRAUCH: It was very awkward. They didn't know what to say and so they just didn't say anything and they just left me alone.

ZAHN: According to Lynne Hughes who founded a bereavement camp for children of 9/11, the results surprised everyone.

LYNNE HUGHES, FOUNDER, COMFORT ZONE CAMP: A lot of what we saw at the beginning with kids slowing up shell-shocked the goal is just to get through each day, one day at a time, and then really striving to hit that one-year anniversary mark that was such a magical day for these kids. And then to hear them in the second year really surprised that they were in more pain. That they really were aware of the fact that at that second holiday and that second year of Little League that dad wasn't going to be there and that it was a permanent change.

And for them to be talking about it and dealing with it now is key.

H. STRAUCH: Then I thought, you know, they were going to make fun of me, but it turned out to be really different. Everybody had some of the same problems and we all helped each other.

ZAHN: Hillary and her mother have been back to Lynne's camp five times over the past two years.

H. STRAUCH: I've learned that you have to take your time on earth and make the best of it because, you know, you never know what might happen tomorrow. But I'm still just a kid.

ZAHN: A kid who loves to swim and hang out with her best friend Annie. A kid who miraculously has a sense of optimism, hope and maturity way beyond her years.

H. STRAUCH: I look into the sky on one starry night. I can see him up there and he's shining bright. He looks at me and I'm no longer sad that this star close to heaven is my angel, my dad.


ZAHN: An update now on Hillary. She's doing well and just last month went to another 9/11 camp.

We're looking back tonight at some of the highlights from some of the past few months, including a report on whether in vitro fertilization leads to birth defects and the personal story of novelist James Brown, how he endured and transformed himself in the face of tragedy.


ZAHN: Breakthroughs in fertility treatments continue to bring joy to couples all over the world. A recent European study says an estimated one million babies have been conceived and born through in vitro fertilization and other advances in technology.

But what are the risks? Well, some researchers say children conceived through in vitro fertilization have a much higher chance of developing a rare birth defect, a risk that may have been overlooked by the emotions of Jim and Juli Noll.


JULI NOLL, MOTHER: The doctors told us pretty unequivocally it wouldn't be happening for us the good old-fashioned way.

ZAHN (voice-over): In their late 30s, Juli and Jim Noll couldn't get pregnant. Without hesitation, Julie underwent in vitro fertilization. It worked perfectly twice, but the third time was different.

NOLL: She was going into hyperglycemic seizures. She was in intensive care, and that was the last I saw of a normal baby.

ZAHN: Daughter Haley (ph) was born with Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes overgrown limbs and organs and puts children at greater risk of cancer.

NOLL: We started, you know, doing the blaming thing and was it something I did?

ZAHN: Dr. Andrew Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his colleagues might have the answer. Their study found children conceived through in vitro fertilization were four times more likely to have Haley's rare genetic disorder.

AMDREW FEINBERG, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Since we did our original study there are two other groups who have found the same thing.

ZAHN: No one has pinpointed whether the potential increased risk is due to a couple's underlying infertility or the treatment itself. But Feinberg has a surprising theory.

FEINBERG: We think it may have something to do with the chemicals and the nutrients or just even the handling outside of the body of the embryos.

ZAHN: Dr. Zev Rosenwaks is considered one of the country's leading fertility doctors and for 25 years has studied the outcome of his patients.

DR. ZEV ROSENWAKS, FERTILITY SPECIALIST: We have almost 9,000 babies born from this clinic, and we ourselves have not seen an increased abnormality rate in the population of the women that we've treated.

ZAHN: What most agree upon is there is a need for more research, not a need for panic.

ROSENWAKS: If you ask a couple what to do, would you try to have a baby or even knowing there might be an increased abnormality rate, would you have a baby? And to me, that is the bottom line.

ZAHN: A decision Juli and Jim Noll made but, they say, without knowing the risks. Information they hope potential parents will now have.

NOLL: And I hope they will take the time to just ask themselves what if and be prepared for the "what if," because it can rock your world.

ZAHN: Today Haley at age 3 is happy and healthy. Yet every six weeks she must be tested for any sign of cancer, a constant reminder for this family of five...

NOLL: OK, you ready to go lipsticks?

ZAHN: ... to cherish the smiles and the joy that life brings.


ZAHN: An update on the Nolls now. The family is grateful their daughter remains healthy.

Meanwhile, studies continue to look at the possible link between in vitro fertilization and birth defects.

Now on to my interview with Amy Tan, a best selling author with legions of fans.

Her books often center around the family, in particular the relationship between a mother and daughter. It is a subject she tackles in her newest work, but it is not a novel. It is her first work of nonfiction. And her personal story is as compelling as any of the novels she's ever written.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to understand my mother. I really try. But in so many ways she's always been a stranger to me. I guess she always will be.

ZAHN (voice-over): It was one of those books, one of those movies that stays with you forever. The immortal, vivid words of Amy Tan's "Joy Luck Club" made her a book club darling.

Yet ironically, if her mother had her way, Amy never would have written a page.

(on camera) She wanted you to be a concert pianist or a doctor.

TAN: Yes.

ZAHN: Now 55 years later, are you satisfied with the choice you made?

TAN: It was not what she expected and yet after it happened, she would brag to everybody, "I always knew she had a wild imagination. I knew she would be a writer."

And so in a sense, she has revised herself and made it seem as though she expected it all along.

ZAHN: What have you learned over the years about the intimacy of a mother/daughter relationship?

TAN: Part of it is that it changes. Part of it was getting older and realizing that she was a human being and some of the things -- the warnings she gave me, like "Don't kiss a boy. If you do, you know, you'll get pregnant. And you'll put the baby in a garbage can and you'll go to jail. And you might as well kill yourself right now."

You know, she'd say stuff like that, and I had no context for it. When I realized what that came from in her life, the trauma she had gone through, it made me appreciate how much love was behind those warnings.

ZAHN (voice-over): Warnings that no doubt helped Tan deal with the many tragedies that have struck her life over the years, starting at just 15, when her father and then brother died of brain tumors.

TAN: It was a terrible time, but it was also a formative time for me as a writer, because I had to ask questions and observe and know what was true. And it made me the kind of writer that I am today.

ZAHN: To this day she has written over half a dozen novels, most best sellers, all while dealing with more loss, the 1999 death of her beloved mother and, just two weeks later, the death of her long-time editor.

But recently writing has become almost impossible. Tan suffered from extreme pain, depression and bizarre hallucinations. It took ten doctors, $50,000 in medical bills and almost four years to diagnose the cause: Neurological Lyme Disease.

TAN: I wasn't diagnosed until about six months ago, so there was a lot of time that it went unchecked, and it went into my brain. I had 40 different problems. And I'm finally getting medical treatment, and I'm very hopeful.

I expect to be doing well, but at the same time I'm aware of the realties that I may never be 100 percent. And I may have to continue with treatment for the rest of my life.

ZAHN: In addition to struggling with Lyme Disease, you've also had to deal with depression. Do you have that under control?

TAN: I think some of the depression was related to the Lyme Disease. But, yes, there is a history of depression in our family, but I'm doing wonderfully now. Despite having Lyme Disease, despite a number of other things I'm a very happy person.

ZAHN (voice-over): Tan credits her husband of 29 years for that happiness. He is her rock, her anchor, perhaps even her...

TAN: We are they now in love, in awe.


ZAHN: Tonight we are reliving some of the most memorable moments from this program over the past few months, including the personal journey of a writer how he transformed a life filled with tragedy.

Also, we hope to leave you laughing with the humor of Dave Barry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Novelist James Brown's latest book, "The Los Angeles Diaries," chronicles a deeply troubled family's struggles with addiction, depression and suicide.

It is a gut-wrenching tale and the story is Brown's own life, his remarkable struggle to survive and overcome so much.

Here's Charles Feldman.


CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a ghost story, and James Brown should be dead. That he is not is a remarkable tale of perseverance in the face of staggering loss and tragedy.

In his soul-searching memoir, "The Los Angeles Diaries," the novelist recounts his life story, a story that begins with a memory when he was 5 of his mother setting fire to a building in San Jose, California.

(on camera) What was that like, that experience with your mother?

JAMES BROWN, NOVELIST: Well, that act that was committed ultimately set into motion a series of events that fractured and in many ways destroyed our family.

FELDMAN (voice-over): Brown writes his mother goes to prison on tax evasion charges. His father, brother and sister are left drowning in debt. When Brown's mother is released, she leaves her husband, taking her children to Los Angeles and to their destruction.

FELDMAN: This is where I've gotten into a lot of trouble and where I developed drug habits and drinking habits that ultimately led to addiction.

FELDMAN: By age 9 Brown was already hooked.

(on camera) Los Angeles and Hollywood Boulevard, in particular, were really negative influences in your life. Why?

BROWN: I found myself getting into trouble. I was initially, I think, attracted to the kind of so-called glamour that you're supposed to find here. In my experience, it wasn't too much glamour to find. I found the darker side here.

FELDMAN (voice-over): For awhile Brown's older brother Barry found success as an actor, even starring alongside Cybill Shepherd in the 1974 movie "Daisy Miller."

BARRY BROWN, AS FREDERICK WINTERBOURNE: Forgive me, but would you like to sit down?

CYBILL SHEPHERD, AS DAISY MILLER: I like just hanging around.

FELDMAN: The curse of alcoholism also afflicted Barry Brown, and at the age of 27 he shot himself to death. BROWN: This is where I reclaimed my brother's last personal beings.

FELDMAN (on camera): And what did it do to your life?

BROWN: From this point on, it set me on a more destructive course.

FELDMAN (voice-over): Although James Brown somehow managed to pull together enough to write four novels, marry and raise three boys, his personal demons were unrelenting, made worse still by the suicide of his sister, who flung herself into the concrete bed that was once the Los Angeles River, a scene he imagines in his new book.

BROWN: And you squeeze my hand and let go. And I watch you fall again and again. In my dreams you are suspended in midair, the wind rushing up around you, captured in the moment of flight.

What comes from the genre of nature writing...

FELDMAN: Brown is now a university professor. The "Los Angeles Diaries" is getting rave reviews. He's happy. What turned things around?

It happened in South Dakota one day when he ran out of drugs and faced painful withdrawal.

BROWN: I had a moment, what they call in the AA a moment of clarity. And I came to realize that there was a possibility of change and it was going to be a hard road, but I was going to start.

FELDMAN: Brown divorced and remarried. He moved to a bucolic setting miles from L.A. He became more spiritual, although not religious.

And by writing his memoir he perhaps has finally extinguished the flames he says his mother ignited so many years ago.

FELDMAN: I offer the possibility of change of hope, that you can have some tough things happen to you in life and sometimes life can look very dark. But it doesn't mean you can't rise above and continue on and tomorrow isn't going to be a little better.

FELDMAN: Charles Feldman, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: We have much more ahead on this Christmas Eve. The humor of Dave Barry.


ZAHN: On this Christmas Eve we leave you with some cheer from Dave Barry. He can find humor in the strangest of places. His book called "Boogers Are My Beat" is a testament to his peculiar take on life, and he talked with me about his family, about politics and about his tongue in cheek plan to run for president.

I started off the interview by asking him where he got the idea for the title of his new book.


DAVE BARRY, AUTHOR: That really isn't the title of the book. We just wanted to see if we could get you to say that on the air.

ZAHN: As a mother of three, I feel qualified to say I probably know more about boogers than just about anyone. Do you...

BARRY: I have a three...

ZAHN: ... think you have the corner on the market here?

BARRY: No, I don't. But I have a 3 1/2-year-old daughter, and at that age, they believe that the responsibility for the removal of the booger is the parent. And so they come up -- I'm sure you've had this happen.

ZAHN: Of course. Many a time.

BARRY: And they kind of act like it's an honor for you to be chosen to pick it out. I can't believe we're talking about this.

ZAHN: So the general idea is, once we get beyond the title of your book...

BARRY: Of the book, right.

ZAHN: ... while journalists are out interviewing important people about critical issues, you're at home in your underwear doing what?

BARRY: Well, I'll give you an example. I wrote a column just recently about telemarketers, and I -- the column was about -- are you familiar with the national "do not call" list?

ZAHN: Right. You really ticked these people off.

BARRY: Yes, yes. I put their phone number in my column. And it was inconvenient to them, if you can imagine. They got unwanted phone calls. Can you imagine how bad I felt?

ZAHN: Well, now that they know what it's like to be on the receiving end of it.

BARRY: There you go.

ZAHN: Now, what's this I see about staking a claim for the presidency now?

BARRY: Well...

ZAHN: You're going to add your name to the list? BARRY: I've been running for president for quite a number of years now. I'm not one of those wienie candidates that drop out just because of the electoral college votes. I keep going, year in, year out. And I'm -- yes. So...

ZAHN: Could you share your party affiliation here with us, here this evening?

BARRY: I think that's kind of a personal question, Paula. That's like asking me what kind of underwear I wear -- briefs. It's not something, you know -- Actually, news media people like yourself, no offense, start asking candidates where they stand on the issues, what party they belong to and other personal information like that.

ZAHN: So...

BARRY: Just because I'm running for president doesn't mean anybody needs to know what I think about anything.

ZAHN: Is there a line of questioning, then, you prefer, Mr. Presidential Candidate?

BARRY: I like more along the lines of, you know, what's your favorite color and stuff like that.

ZAHN: We have to leave it there. Dave Barry, always good to see you.

BARRY: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Keep up the good work.

BARRY: Yes, you too. You're shaking my hand, I noticed, despite what we've been talking about.

ZAHN: Oh, please.

BARRY: No, I'm just kidding.

ZAHN: You didn't use any of that special antiseptic stuff before you came on?

BARRY: No, they washed my hands before the...

ZAHN: All of our guests use antiseptics before they come on.

BARRY: They washed...

ZAHN: How did we miss that?

BARRY: "If you're going in with Paula, we have to wash you down, Dave."

ZAHN: Good luck to you.


ZAHN: Thanks so much for spending some of your Christmas Eve with us this evening. We hope you have a wonderful holiday. Good night.


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