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Profile of Lisa DeWitt, Army Major and Doctor

Aired April 28, 2005 - 14:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we make light, but this is a good story. This is a good story. Woody Woodpecker lives and flies again. Actually, it's even better than that. Not that Woody. The ivory-billed woodpecker, also known as the whiteback, the pearly bill, the purl de beau (ph) and even the lord god bird. Long-feared extinct, hunted to extinction because women fancied their feathers for their chapeaux (ph). Hmm, what price vanity?
Anyway, said bird has been spotted alive and -- we think -- well in a remote part of Arkansas, seen there. The last confirmed sighting of the bird was 60 years ago. The journal "Science" says this latest sighting was captured on video last year, that grainy video you just saw there.

Some disturbing news now for woodpeckers and humans alike. More than half of Americans of all species breathe bad air. But get this, that's an improvement. It's the first decline in six years in the number of counties where pollution remains a threat. California has nine of the ten most smog-choked cities.

And there are some reinforcements on the way to battle mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is endorsing two insect repellents in addition to the well-known DEET. The CDC says repellents with the chemical picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus offer long-standing protection against bites. You know, you got to go easy on the DEET, especially with the kids. You know that, right?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Picaridin. I like the lemon eucalyptus.

O'BRIEN: Say it again? Did I say it wrong?

PHILLIPS: Picaridin.

O'BRIEN: Yes, whatever it is.

PHILLIPS: Lemon eucalyptus, I like that.

O'BRIEN: It sure beats DEET. You know, you put that DEET on enough and you taste it. And it's like, ew, man, what am I doing to myself here? I'll take the bites. No, actually, I won't take the bites.

PHILLIPS: I was going to say, think twice about that. All right, when September 11th happened, a Florida doctor sprang into action. O'BRIEN: Dr. DeWitt is his name. He left the comforts of home for the battlefields of Iraq. We'll tell his story -- her story, I knew that. My apologizes. After...


O'BRIEN: Let me get my act together during the break.

PHILLIPS: Let's check in real quickly on the markets, shall we? The Dow Jones Industrials down 115 points. We'll continue to monitor all business news.

O'BRIEN: For men and women alike.

PHILLIPS: Amen. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Time to check some stories "Now in the News."

Michael Jackson's ex-wife back on the stand today. Debbie Rowe testified about a February 2003 interview in which she expressed support for the pop star. The defense initially said it wanted her testimony scrapped, and then decided not to try to stop it or strike it from the record. Analysts say Rowe's testimony has been helpful to the defense in this case.

In Georgia, police widen the search for a missing bride-to-be. Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared two nights ago after she went jogging in the North Atlanta suburb of Duluth. Police have extended the search area because the woman, a marathon winner, was apparently trying to increase her distance. Wilbanks' wedding was scheduled for this coming Saturday. Police have now classified the search as a criminal investigation.

It's taken three months, but Iraq has a new government, almost. The National Assembly picked a new government after prolonged negotiations, but four major posts will be temporary, while discussions continue. As expected, Shiites get the largest number of positions, followed by Kurds and Sunnis.

President Bush holds a primetime news conference this evening, the first of his second term. Topping the agenda, likely, Social Security and energy. That announcement coming as some polls show the majority of Americans are not happy with the president's handling of the Social Security issue.

We want to know what concerns you, however. What would you ask the president at this evening's news conference if you were there? Send us your suggestions to We'll going to air another batch of them very shortly. The president's news conference scheduled for 8:30 Eastern. CNN will, of course, be carrying that live with extensive pre and post-game analysis.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, she didn't have to go, but she asked to. 9/11 change her attitude about what it means to be an American and a doctor. She's dedicated to serving her country by healing the sick and wounded. And she took that passion to war.

Lisa DeWitt served her tour of duty at an army infantry battalion aid station in Iraq. And as CNN's Jane Arraf reports, the army major and doctor says she felt right at home, despite being so close to the front line.


JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 16 months here, Major Lisa Dewitt lowers one last American flag. The soldier's treated with the same care she treats her patients at this forward operating base that's been her home for most of the past year-and-a- half.

Lisa is from the Florida Army National Guard. New to the Army and new to these ceremonies. Two years ago she was heading the residency program at Mt. Sinai in Miami Beach.

MAJ. LISA DEWITT, U.S. ARMY: I can't say it's all because of September 11, but September 11 definitely pushed it to the forefront of my mind that I'm an emergency physician, I have a skill that I can give back.

ARRAF: She's been at this remote outpost in central Iraq since.

DEWITT: OK. Sounds good. I'm just going to listen to your heart.

ARRAF: Lisa is one of fewer than 10 women on this base of 850 infantrymen. She gets to do things that few women do.

DEWITT: It's fun. I love shooting weapons.

ARRAF: She says she's been fortunate: ` she's never had to shoot at anyone. But she's come under attack a dozen times.

DEWITT: I mean, it certainly is not every mission that we go on. I'm pretty lucky. The last mission I was with them this vehicle, not this vehicle but side of it (ph) got hit.

ARRAF: At this Iraqi clinic where she's dropped in to say good- bye, she's known as Doctor Lisa. The father of an Iraqi girl she's treated comes by.

DEWITT: This young lady, 17 years old. She was struck by a stray bullet. Insurgents were shooting at the polling site, and a stray bullet came into her back yard, and it hit her in her eye and it landed on her neck.

ARRAF: Lisa said she hadn't thought Tasan Abdullah (ph) would live.

DEWITT: Can you close your eyes? Close?

ARRAF: She lost her eye, but she's doing well.

DEWITT: It looks great. When she gets the fake eye, the prosthetic eye, tell the family that she will be beautiful again.

ARRAF: Back at the base, Lisa packs up her life in cardboard boxes.

DEWITT: I'm at a loss. I don't know what to take.

ARRAF: In one of the boxes there's a dove, recovering from a broken wing. She's named him Mel, after one of her favorite movie stars.

DEWITT: Let's see if Mel can fly. Let's do a test run here.

Go ahead.

He's going to go for the window. Watch this. I hope he doesn't crash. There. Kind of. That was kind of a flutter.

ARRAF: He's not quite ready yet.

Much of the past year and a half is too raw and real to be packed away.

DEWITT: Soldier's blood, it's still on there. You know what's sad? Is like when I look at spots like that spot, and some of these other little spots, it's like I know which soldier it was.

ARRAF: It's impossible to go through this and not have changed.

DEWITT: I think that I'm going to be in traffic one day, and someone next to me is going to be saying how terrible it is to be in traffic. And I'm like man, it's like nobody's shooting at you. This is a pretty good thing. So I may have a different perspective.

ARRAF: Lisa and the soldiers live in an abandoned Iraqi army barracks that they've tried to fix up.

In this world, small things, like this makeshift bed, are a big deal.

DEWITT: This is plywood. I got this from the previous person who was in this room or in that room. And then I had this fine one inch or half an inch of Styrofoam, duct taped down.

ARRAF: On her window is a fragile link to home.

DEWITT: My mom sent me these. This is dried flowers that she ironed in wax paper for me from Georgia.

ARRAF: From the stained wall, she takes down the map where she traced her route from Kuwait.

Dewitt, 42 and separated from her husband, was to have gone home last year, but was persuaded by the battalion commander to stay. She says she's a firm believer that God puts you where you're needed.

DEWITT: It smells just like every other soldier in this battalion. I want to go home. I can see it. It's just right there. I'm almost there.

ARRAF: In Iraq, there are memories that will follow her home: lives saved, lives lost.

DEWITT: In Falluja, the alpha company XO, he was alive. We resuscitated. You know, we kept him alive. It was so hard to turn him over to Bravo surgical and to have the surgeon and the emergency physician there, look at his abdominal wound and look at me and just tell me that he's not going to survive this. This is not a survivable injury. You know, and I knew that, but you pour out your blood, heart, sweat and tears on this individual, and -- those are hard.

ARRAF: In Falluja, they were treating soldiers as the aid station was attacked, protecting their patients with their bodies as rockets fell around them.

DEWITT: These are young people who raise their right hand, put on the uniform, know the risk, and come to serve their country. And it's such an honor to be able to treat them. These are heroes, every one of them.

ARRAF: Lisa says her grandmother, who died at the age of 100, gave her some advice just before she passed away.

DEWITT: She said, Lisa, live in the now. Don't think about the future too much. Don't dwell on the past. You can't change it if you want to. You can't relive it. Just live in the now, and that's what I'm trying to do.

ARRAF: She says she'll go home for about six months and then hopes to be redeployed to Afghanistan.

When she leaves she has to let the bird go when she leaves.

DEWITT: All right. Here he goes. God, I hope he flies.

ARRAF: She doesn't know whether he'll be safe. But like her, he's going home.

Jane Arraf, CNN, near Muqdadiya Iraq.


PHILLIPS: Well, Dr. DeWitt is back home in Florida, and working at the same hospital. She join us live from Miami to talk about what she's doing now and her plans for the future.

Lisa, it's so good to see you.

DEWITT: Hi, thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, I know that was the first time you saw that piece. I had to watch your reaction. I saw the tears, and I just got to ask you -- this has got to be emotional for you to be back home and to think about your time there, as you watched that piece -- and your eyes did well up. Tell me what you were thinking about. DEWITT: There's some things I haven't thought about in a couple of months, since I've been home. I've been playing. I've been traveling, visiting family and relatives, and I just haven't thought too much about some of those parts.

PHILLIPS: Are there part of Iraq that you miss?

DEWITT: Strangely, yes -- the camaraderie, and the soldiers, of course. Those soldiers were with 2-2 infantry. They're based out of Villesac (ph), Germany. When they redeployed home, they all went home together and they live near each other. So, they still have that camaraderie, and I went back to Florida, and none of my family or friends are even in the military, so it's just a little different.

PHILLIPS: What is it that you don't miss?

DEWITT: Resuscitating friends. Losing soldiers.

PHILLIPS: Wow. We have a number of pictures, of course, of you, and -- working on a lot of those soldiers and other individuals, even Iraqis. Describe to me how intense it got. Were there times when you were working to save a life and you were under fire and the conditions were just so brutal it was hard to focus? I mean, sort of set the scene for me on a pretty, I guess -- I guess a reality check for you in many ways, you know, much different from the hospital there in Florida.

DEWITT: I'm an emergency physician, so I don't get too distracted when I'm doing my medical job. But in combat, such as the assault on Falluja, when we're resuscitating soldiers out in the field, or if we're in the aid station at FAB Normandy (ph), and we're resuscitating soldiers, or Iraqi national guard soldiers, even E.P.W.s, enemy prisoners of war, there's a lot of chaos going around. But, as an emergency physician, that didn't distract me too much.

However, the difference in being an ER doc in a hospital and being there is that sometimes you know the patient.

PHILLIPS: Knowing the patient and, then -- let's hook at the other side -- having to work on an EPW, was that tough, honestly?

DEWITT: Actually, to me, no, because I'm used to working on all kinds of members of our society in the emergency department. I think for some of the medics and for some of the people who were not prepared -- well, I don't want to say not prepared, but were -- had not crossed in their mind they would probably have to give medical care to enemy prisoners of war. That may have been a more difficult challenge. But our medic team was wonderful, gave the absolute best medical care to every patient under our hands.

PHILLIPS: Lisa, when you came home and you sat down and you were talking with friends and family, what would you say? I know there's a lot of amazing memories, but what would you say is the one thing that's going to stay with you forever?

DEWITT: Gosh, that is a really hard question. I was gone 16 months. That is such a hard question. There are both good memories and there's bad memories that will probably stay with me forever. Some of the good memories were going to the range or being with friends or laughing or having a joke, having a -- just fun stuff and going out on missions. I loved going out, getting out to the clinics, and going to city councils and just being into the regular population.

But then, the other not-so-fun memories will probably be the assault on Falluja, and losing friends, memorial services. I'll definitely remember a lot of our resuscitations. I can remember each and every resuscitation -- where we stood, what we did. That's just the medical in me, I guess.

PHILLIPS: Well, I think you got a lot of angels hovering over you, and no doubt, I think what the most memorable thing for us is all the lives that you saved.

Lisa DeWitt, back home, working in Florida now. Your grandmother said live in the now: you are definitely doing that. I can't wait to see, though, what happens after now, and what's next for you. We're going to follow you. Lisa DeWitt, thanks so much.

DEWITT: Thank you, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


O'BRIEN: Entertainment news now. A shocker on "American Idol." Kyra's beside herself. Constantine, who she -- Kyra thought was a girl. Constantine's a boy.

PHILLIPS: Sorry, I don't watch the show.

O'BRIEN: See, we've both been doing this all day long.


O'BRIEN: And then there's some news on Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise can date anybody he wants.

PHILLIPS: She's 26. Now that I've been watching.

O'BRIEN: What's the matter with that?


O'BRIEN: What's the matter with that? Entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.

PHILLIPS: She's a child.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all right.


O'BRIEN: Well, Sibila...

VARGAS: Well, heart's are definitely...

O'BRIEN: Fill us in on the scoop. Give us the dish.

VARGAS: I got the scoop. Hearts are being broken at this very minute over the news that Senor Tom Cruise is off the market. The "Minority Report" actor is apparently over his break-up with Penelope Cruz and moving on. Cruz' publicist and sister Leigh Anne Devett (ph) confirms that the actor is dating actress Katie Holmes. The 26-year- old actress is best known for starring in the TV show "Dawson's Creek." She recently called off her engagement to actor Chris Klein after dating him for five years.

And finally, it was the gasp heard 'round the world, or at least on "American Idol."


RYAN SEACREST, HOST, "AMERICAN IDOL": America voted. And, Constantine, you are going home tonight.


VARGAS: Wow. Last night's show left more than a few people stunned when Constantine Maroulis was eliminated from the show. The Greek rocker was a crowd favorite and Paula Abdul thought he was the one to beat. Now that leaves Bo Bice, Anthony Federov, Scott Savol, Vonzell Solomon and Carrie Underwood in the final five, and you can bet the remaining contestants are breathing a sigh of relief.

Well, we'll have more LIVE FROM after this break.


O'BRIEN: A down day on Wall Street. 104 points. That's some real change, even with the market where it is. So we're watching it for you.

PHILLIPS: Straight ahead, too, we're going to have a live report on the desperate search for a missing woman.

O'BRIEN: Dozens of volunteers searching for a bride-to-be in Georgia. She vanished just days before what was to be the big wedding. We'll give you an update. Stay with us.


PHILLIPS: "Now in the News," expanding the search for a missing woman here in Georgia. She vanished only days before her wedding and now police are calling the case a criminal investigation. We're live on the story this hour.

Another day of surprise testimony from Michael Jackson's ex-wife. Called as a witness for the prosecution, Deborah Rowe may be helping the defense. We'll have a report from the courthouse straight ahead. Rush Limbaugh gets a thumb's down from the Florida Supreme Court. The justices decide not to review a lower court ruling which allows the state to seize his medical records. Investigators are looking into whether the conservative radio host illegally purchased prescription painkillers.

A milestone in post-Saddam Iraq. A new government is chosen and for the most part, complete. The cabinet is largely made up of Shiites and Kurds and with today's vote, Ibrahim al Jaafari officially became prime minister.


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