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Rescuing Youssif; How to Keep the Peace This Holiday; How to Stay Alive; Army Combat Stress Therapy is Going to the Dogs

Aired December 22, 2007 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: This is HOUSE CALL. We're making the rounds this morning of some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.
First up, you watch news. Now see the good that can come of the news. How rescuing a little boy named Youssif impacted our world.

Then, 'tis the season for family, maybe family feuds as well. How to keep the peace this holiday. We have a psychologist standing by.

And you heard the story of the California family lost in the snow for three days. Would you know how to stay alive? You will after watching HOUSE CALL today.

Let's begin, though, with the tale so tragic, it moved even the most cynical journalists here at CNN. It all started about a year ago when a five-year-old Iraqi boy named Youssif was savagely burned by masked men on the streets of Baghdad. His father brought Youssif's plight to CNN, who in turn brought it to the world. What happened next changed all of our lives.


GUPTA (voice-over): Desperately wanting to help his son heal, Youssif's father wrote letters to government officials, hoping someone would help.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's gone to the Ministry of Health. He's gone -- written letters to parliament. He's written letters to the prime minister's office begging for them somehow to get his son help outside of Iraq because he knew that Iraq's medical institutions could not treat a case like Youssif's.

His father had been pounding the pavement in Baghdad for about nearly eight months. He happened to be in a store where he heard about CNN, was told that perhaps CNN could help.

We were going to do this story if only for the sole reason of trying to get this kid home.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A small boy scarred in Iraq scarred forever by shocking violence. CNN's Arwa Damon has the story, but first a warning. The pictures are very disturbing.

DAMON (voice-over): Youssif is five-years old. He was a happy boy, who loved kindergarten and had dreams of being a doctor one day. On January 15th, that all changed.

I remember the e-mail responses beginning to come to the dot-com desk and feeling a little bit of relief, but still apprehensive.

And then all of a sudden we were flooded. was flooded, my inbox was flooded. It was completely and totally overwhelming.

GUPTA: Heartfelt responses came in from all over the world. Offers came from a number of charities. And Youssif's parents chose the Children's Burn Foundation to help their son.

BARBARA FRIEDMAN, CHILDREN'S BURN FOUNDATION: Gifts have come to the Children's Burn Foundation from around the block in Van Nyes to England, Monaco, Lebanon, everywhere. We got a lot of contributions from soldiers in Iraq. An example is one who e-mailed and said, you know, I've spent a year in Iraq. And I thought I was tough, but when I saw the story about Youssif, I cried.

GUPTA: A doctor also stepped up. Dr. Peter Grossman of the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, California.

DR. PETER GROSSMAN, GROSSMAN BURN CENTER: Sometimes a story just hits you, a situation. And you're presented with just gets you right in the heart and you say you know what, I want to do something, I want to reach out.

GUPTA: A special visa for Youssif and his family was the last piece of the puzzle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people at the embassy in Baghdad who were my direct line of contact were actually amazing. Once they got all of the paperwork, Youssif and his family had their travel documents within two days. And that is unheard of in the past. It was the most amazing thing to be able to call Youssif's father finally when everything fell into place and say to him, your son is going to America and he's going to get help.


GUPTA: No doubt about it. Youssif has impacted our world. And CNN will be devoting an entire hour on his story. So for more on Youssif's journey to heal, how he looks and feels now, tune in to CNN on Christmas Eve at 10:00 p.m. and Christmas Day at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

So have you ever had a health problem and instead of going to a doctor, you just googled it? Well, you're not alone. Many people are turning to the Internet instead of doctors for diagnosis. They're called cyberchondriacs. Pretty good term, huh?

Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with this edition of "Empowered Patient." Hi, Elizabeth.


Sanjay, I think many of us have had this experience where you think oh, I'll just look this up myself. But the problem is you can cross from safe surfing to cyberchondriac pretty easily.

So let's take a look at a list of things that you can watch for in yourself when you know you've crossed over to becoming a cyberchondriac. First of all, if you feel worse after surfing than better, more worry, more anxious, not a good sign. If your doctor's reassurances don't help, if you say I think I've got a, b, and c and they say no, we've tested you and you're fine, you really should feel much more reassured.

Also, if you diagnose yourself, if you say, for example, oh, my hand's shaking, I must have Parkinson's, you know that perhaps you have stepped over the line -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: Those are all good tips. So what can you do if you think you're a cyberchondriac?

COHEN: Experts we talked to said there are a couple things you can do to sort of keep things in check. First of all, something you really want to watch for is if you want to make sure you're surfing with clear objectives. For example, you want to find out one thing. Do that one thing and don't just keep going, because that's where you can get into trouble.

Also, trust your intuition. If you have a headache and you think oh, my gosh, it must be a brain tumor, I read about it on the Internet, say to yourself really did your intuition say that a headache could be a brain tumor, most likely. And then your intuition will probably help you out there.

Now we have some more tips that you can read on this week's "empowered patient" column. Go to and scroll down. And you'll see my picture and it's right there.

GUPTA: That's a very nice picture, too, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Oh, well, thank you.

GUPTA: And you're teaching us all to be empowered patients. I appreciate that, Elizabeth. Happy holidays to you.

COHEN: And to you.

GUPTA: All right. And there's much more to come on HOUSE CALL as well. Army combat stress therapy is going to dogs, literally. And it could be the best thing for U.S. troops. We'll explain.

Then, does your family take the fun out of dysfunctional during the holidays? We have a psychologist here to help you deal with everyone's issues.

Finally, the big chill. It's long road to spring. How to survive. And that's the subject of our quick quiz coming up in one minute. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: Before the break we asked, exposed skin can freeze in less than 30 seconds when the wind chill drops below a, 20 degrees; b, zero degrees; c, negative 20 degrees; or d, negative 70 degrees. The answer 70 below zero.

We'll have more about how to survive the cold coming up in a few minutes on HOUSE CALL.

But first, sometimes the frightening weather outside is nothing compared to the frigid relations inside some holiday gatherings. In this week's surviving the holiday segment, we look at family tension, which can run hot and cold this time of year. Judy Fortin has the forecast.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Painter Norman Rockwell captured the perfect family gathering at the dinner table. But in real life, holiday get-togethers don't always have a happy ending.

CHARLES RAISON, DR., EMORY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: The holiday is like a pressure cooker. They put everybody together. So anything that's there is likely to erupt.

FORTIN: Psychiatrist Charles Raison says underlying family tension is very common and often re-emerges during the holidays.

RAISON: Families have real conflicts and they have real problems. And most the times, families deal with them, yes, the rest of the year by finding distances from each other.

FORTIN: He suggests breaking the tension by starting new traditions that will be fun and liberating. Communicating ahead of time and compromising may be the most realistic way to head off trouble.

RAISON: Everybody has to find their own compromise level, but the best way to extinguish conflict in this kind of situation is for people to be honest about what their expectations are. And if people can do that, they can really get ahead of the game.

FORTIN: And maybe have a real reason to celebrate the holidays.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: All right, some food for thought there. Thanks, Judy.

And for more on how to deal with all that family togetherness at the holidays, we're joined by Marc Crawford. He's a clinical psychologist. He's also the author of two books. Thanks for being here.

MARK CRAWFORD, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Thanks for having me. GUPTA: Is it busy this time of year for you?

CRAWFORD: Very, very busy.

GUPTA: What triggers these tense -- you have a tense situation that leads to a long family feud. That's not what people are expecting at the holidays.

CRAWFORD: They're really not. And these feuds usually start with something very small and insignificant. And so much emotion gets wrapped around. People get locked down into I'm right, you're wrong. And it just mushrooms and explodes into something that goes on and on. And then people stop talking. And when you're not talking, you're not going to get resolution.

GUPTA: People have the highest expectations during the holidays. And oftentimes it doesn't end up that way.

CRAWFORD: Well, that's right. You know, the expectation for the perfect family gathering and everyone getting along. And I think people need to be realistic to realize that just because you're in the same family doesn't mean you will or even should see things the same way.

GUPTA: A lot of people sent us e-mails about this, Dr. Crawford. Elizabeth in Minnesota asks this question.

"I am going to visit my mother. She is so critical of me and my life that after about 24 hours I lose my temper with her. What are some ways for me to handle this?"

She's not alone, is she?

CRAWFORD: She is not alone at all. And that's part of this whole holiday tension thing. I think for her I would say, listen, don't try to change your mother, you know. You need to look at your own reaction to this. And in martial arts, you're taught that it takes more energy to block a punch than to just step aside and watch it go by.

And resist the natural tendency to become defensive and argue back, because that's blocking the punch. Just I would advisor her to say something like, mom, I appreciate that you care about me and that you're wanting to give me advice that you think's best, but please accept that I've got to make decisions that I think is best. We're not going to see it the same way. And that's OK. And then change the subject.

GUPTA: Is there something to be said for that old phrase you hurt the ones you love? I mean, families do this to each other. Friends, you know, you don't hear about this as much at the holiday season.

CRAWFORD: Well, that's right. And what happens is because you really know your family, usually, they're going to love and accept you no matter what. You take liberties. You don't watch what you say. Sometimes you talk off the top of your head and you say things that can be a bit hurtful. It's important to apologize when you do that. That repairs a lot.

GUPTA: You know there are buttons, too.

CRAWFORD: Oh, yes.

GUPTA: The buttons to push.

CRAWFORD: That's right.

GUPTA: Let's keep going. Let's (INAUDIBLE) a little bit more. Amanda in Georgia asks this, "My family lives in England and I get stuck spending holidays with my husband's family here in America. I end up crying on Christmas Day and resenting my husband -- basically ruining the whole day. How can I deal with this better?"

What do you say to Amanda?

CRAWFORD: Well, I would say Amanda, I hope that you and your husband are working together to maybe rotate the holidays and make that a little more equitable. And that's a common problem, sharing families and holidays. So it's important to do that in an equitable, fair fashion.

But if you're doing that and you're still miserable, what I would say is listen, this holiday season is really about love and charity toward others. Consider your visit with your husband's family as a gift to him. This is your holiday gift to him. And try to make the most of it. Surely there's something you can find that's enjoyable. A particular relative, maybe get a good book you like to read. Just put on a smile and try to join the celebration with the family. It may change the way she feels about it.

GUPTA: That's very good advice. And so if they don't end up divorced, but there's a lot of divorced families out there or broken families.

CRAWFORD: That's right.

GUPTA: Any special advice for them? I mean, things that they should be doing?

CRAWFORD: Yes. The keys to that are flexibility and a spirit of cooperation. It really is easy to sort of lock down on this is my tradition and I'm not going to make concessions, particularly for ex- spouses and stepparents.

But when kids are involved, so important to see Christmas through their eyes, the holidays through their eyes and really make it easy for them. Make sure they have time to spend with each parent and each family. And certainly, don't ever, ever put them in the middle of adult conflict.

GUPTA: What are you doing for the holidays?

CRAWFORD: I'm going to stay home with my family and we're going to take it easy.

GUPTA: All right, well, thanks so much, Dr. Crawford, for being here.

CRAWFORD: Thank you.

GUPTA: Really good advice, important advice as well. Appreciate it.

CRAWFORD: My pleasure.

GUPTA: Well, from the big chill at home to the big chill outside, you asked for it online this week, how the frigid weather affects your body. Some cold, hard facts next.

And then, an amazing story of a medic who braved a burning vehicle to try and save a fellow soldier. Don't miss it. It's coming up on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. The weather outside might be frightening, but that doesn't mean you have to hibernate. On this week, we asked which topic you'd like us to tackle on HOUSE CALL. You voted for cold weather and your body. Thanks to all those who voted.

And for more, let's turn to Bonnie Schneider in the CNN Weather Center.


Now that winter is officially here, expect cold air to drop down from Canada, affecting areas in the Great Lakes and the Northeast. So as you spend more time outside in this bitter cold, here are some tips to keep you safe in this season's most dangerous weather.


SCHNEIDER: Ice, snow, freezing rain. Besides frightening, winter weather can also be a health hazard. According to Dr. Richard Bradley of the Red Cross, hundreds suffer from preventable injuries like hypothermia or frostbite each year. And most aren't even aware it's an issue.

RICHARD BRADLEY, DR., AMERICAN RED CROSS: I think the biggest misperception that people have about hypothermia is that it only affects somebody who's, you know, a real outdoorsy person. When in fact, one out of every five hypothermia deaths actually occur at home.

So it's definitely something that can happen around the house and with minimal exposure to the environment.

SCHNEIDER: Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops below 95 degrees. It can happen quickly. The victim may experience shivering, confusion, or lose consciousness. If the body temperature drops below 90 degrees, the heart can stop. Frigid weather can also cause frostbite, leading to loss of feeling and color to exposed limbs like the nose, ears, fingers, and toes. And you may not notice when you're affected.

BRADLEY: One of the risks of winter weather medical conditions is that neither hypothermia nor frostbite are painful. These can come on. And people really don't know unless they're watching for the signs.

SCHNEIDER: So how can you prepare?

BRADLEY: I like to use the acronym colds, c-o-l-d-s. Cover, cover your head and your hands, use mittens. O, avoid overexertion. Don't go out and work up a sweat. "L," use layered clothing. "D," stay dry. And "S," stay sober.

Hypothermia by itself will reduce your ability to make good decisions and alcohol just compounds that problem.

SCHNEIDER: Small details that can make a big difference between fun and getting an injury.


SCHNEIDER: And remember, even when the temperature's above freezing, the windchill factor can make it feel even colder. So make sure you protect yourself from the bitter blast of winter.

Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: All right, Bonnie Schneider, thanks so much. And some great information there. Would you know how to survive if you were caught in a blizzard?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just all huddled up together and tried to stay as warm and out of the snow as we possibly could.


GUPTA: The Dominguez family went into the California mountains searching for a Christmas tree. But they got lost in a snowstorm and they struggled to survive. They spent three days trudging through the snow, fighting off frostbite by cutting up their shirts and tucking their cold feet underneath.

Luckily, the family was spotted by a rescue helicopter just in time. Another snowstorm was about to ground the search. And as the Dominguez family learned, be prepared for the worst in cold weather. Dr. Richard Bradley has some quick tips for stocking up your emergency kit for your house and your car.


DR. RICHARD BRADLEY: People don't often realize how important water is during an emergency. Even in the winter, you can dehydrated pretty quickly. Flashlights, important to have available with batteries. We always recommend keeping your flashlights in your kit with the battery separate. This particular kid has a type of energy bar in it. Having food and water and staying dry and staying warm can make the difference between life and death.

The slightest input on your door or on your antenna to let people know, hey, I need help. We have to remember not to completely rely on technology like cell phones. It's got a solar blanket. Now this looks small and lightweight and can be the difference between life and death if you're in a hypothermia situation.

Another good thing about being prepared is now before the emergency occurs, get some training. Take a class. People can go to our Web site at to find the closest chapter.


GUPTA: Be prepared. Really good tips to remember there.

Now many soldiers feel out in the cold emotionally after spending time in the war zone. But sometimes help can come on four legs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a natural, uncanny way of reducing stress. It's kind of a magical thing.


GUPTA: Yes, it is. Man's best friend, the newest weapon in fighting combat stress in Iraq.

Then, we'll tell you about an Army medic who went above and beyond the call of duty to try and save a fellow soldier. Stay tuned for HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: The newest members of the Army are on a mission to help treat combat stress in Iraq. The only compensation they will receive is a pat on the head. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr explains.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Meet sergeants First Class Bud and Bo, members of the 85th medical detachment combat stress unit and on their way to Iraq. Staff Sergeant Jack Green is one of the therapists taking the dogs into the war zone.

JACK GREENE, STAFF SGT., ARMY: It's going to be a great Christmas present for our soldiers there.

STARR: These dogs won't be on security patrols or searching for bombs. These are therapy dogs. Bud and Bo will help the troops deal with the stress of combat. GREENE: The dog has a natural, uncanny way of reducing stress. It's kind of a magical thing. And Americans are dog lovers. And most soldiers are dog lovers.

STARR: The unit tries to help troops cope, listening to what they say about how they feel. The dogs will be used to help the soldiers open up.

MIKE CALAWAY, STAFF SGT., U.S. ARMY: Maybe they don't want to talk to me, but it do them some good to come up and, you know, pet the dog and meet and greet the dog. And at some point there, they might actually, you know, think we're OK and want to ask more about what we have to offer and how we can help them.

STARR: On this day, Bud and Bo are being officially turned over to the Army by the group that helped train them. Already, they are used to the sound of gunfire and even helicopters. These dogs will be well looked after.

CALAWAY: They have boots, uniforms, goggles, different things like that to protect them just like any other soldier.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


GUPTA: All right, Barbara. Thanks.

You know, here on HOUSE CALL, we've been honoring the medical personnel who care for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We'd like to bring you another story from the front lines today. An Army stryker like the one pictured here was on patrol in Baghdad when it was by a bomb, critically injuring the soldier inside. The Army says medic James Klinefelter immediately climbed on top of the still burning stryker to care for the wounded soldier.

Small arms fire continued from nearby, while the medic began treating the man's life threatening injuries. In the meantime, Klinefelter had the presence of mind to know that smoldering ammunition just a few feet away. He instructed other soldiers to remove it before it blew.

Still under fire, Klinefelter lowered the injured soldier off the stryker and onto another vehicle in the nick of time. Klinefelter is a hero and is a credit to the U.S. Army.

That's it for HOUSE CALL.

Before we go, though, I'd like to take a moment if I could to talk about a hero of our own in the CNN medical news unit. What you're watching is video of our producer, Rhonda Grayson. She just lost her battle with cancer. This was an outtake of the story she covered last year. Rhonda had an infectious enthusiasm and was always ready to try something new. Rhonda was one of a kind. And she was a friend of mine. And as you can see, she had a smile that could light up a room. We all miss her already. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT