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Larry King Speaks His Mind; Inside the Life of Senator Arlen Specter; Old Age or Overmedicated: A Big Problem Older Americans; Logging Your Way to Weight Loss

Aired May 31, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to HOUSE CALL. We're making the rounds this morning of some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.
First up, the king of talk. He sits down and speaks his mind. Discover what scared him straight and what he calls the biggest lie in America.

And brain tumors, heart surgery, and now cancer for the second time. Inside the life of Senator Arlen Specter.

Plus, old age or overmedicated. A dangerous problem for older Americans. And we've got help.

Logging your way to weight loss. It worked for our Fit Nation success story. Find out what made the difference.

We start, though, with the medical headlines. First off, efforts to reduce the obesity epidemic in American children may be working. A survey of more than 8,000 children found that after 25 years of steady increases, the number of children who are overweight and obese seems to have leveled off. The news is encouraging, but it's too soon to celebrate. Experts say though there were no significant increases, there was also no decline. And the whole health impact of the epidemic may not be felt for several years.

Also in the news, sleep and your brain. A study found losing just one night of sleep makes the brain unstable and prone to unpredictable shutdowns. The sleepless brain alternates between normal functions and dramatic visual and attention lapses. Study authors say getting enough sleep is essential. But if you can't, avoid making huge life decisions or taking long drives.

And finally, do cell phones cause cancer? Now the widow of famed O.J. Simpson defense attorney Johnnie Cochran and Cochran's doctor argued this question still needs to be answered. They say Cochran's brain tumor appeared on the left side of his brain, the same side he held his cell phone.

On CNN'S "LARRY KING LIVE," Dr. Keith Black says there's still a lot of unknowns.


KEITH BLACK, DR., COCHRAN'S NEUROSURGEON: We do not have enough data now to say that, you know, that is a safe device. Unfortunately, you know, my suspicion is that it's going to be five years to ten years before we have a definitive answer.


GUPTA: Now the cell phone industry and most medical experts continue to say there is no reason for concern.

Now, I got the chance to turn the tables on the king of talk, putting him on the hot seat about everything, from his old bad habits, to his cardiac foundation, and why his grandkids think he's Marcus Welby.


GUPTA: Thanks so much for letting me be here.


GUPTA: You know, we talk a lot about heart disease on our show, HOUSE CALL. It is the number one killer, as you know, of men and women in this country. You probably more than anyone else are best equipped to really talk about this personally and professionally.

KING: Yes.

GUPTA: First of all, before 1987, what was your lifestyle like?

KING: The worst. I did -- everything you were supposed to do wrong, I did wrong. I didn't exercise. I ate everything wrong, smoked three packs a day, and never thought it would happen to me, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Right.

KING: I'd seen the commercial. You know, Yul Brynner had died. And he did a commercial after -- it was played after he died saying I'm dead now, please don't smoke. I'd see that commercial and it would make me smoke. I don't understand.

So I did everything wrong until that fateful February day in 1987, when I had a heart attack. And that day, I stopped, I stopped smoking. I changed all my attitudes. A couple months later, I required bypass surgery. I had a couple bypass surgery. But the shock of it, I was scared straight, changed that day.

GUPTA: Tell me about that day specifically. A lot of people talk about sort of the classic Hollywood signs, you know, chest pain and sweating.

KING: I didn't have that. I had right side pain in the shoulder. It was going down my right arm. Never -- I never had chest pain. I called my doctor and he thought it was gall bladder. He thought that's a telltale sign of gallbladder, refractive pain on the right side. So he said you ought to get to the hospital. I went to the hospital. The pain started again. And they took some tests. And the doctors said you're having a heart attack. It was a right side heart attack.

The benefit of that was, if there could be called a benefit, is one, they gave me ample warning. And two, most people survive a right side heart attack for some reason. In fact, he said sometimes, maybe a quarter of the patients don't even have to come in. And they will recover from a right side heart attack. But I'm glad I came in. I'm glad I was treated. I'm glad I had my surgery, but I've got a lesson.

GUPTA: You had a life change, a sea change as you put it out that day.

KING: Yes, that day.

GUPTA: Must have been hard to break some of those habits, though.

KING: Well, you know something? Smoking was not, and even though I was a confirmed smoker, liked smoking, I was a habitual smoker, I think I was just scared because I never lit up again, nor wanted to light up again. I never reached for one, I didn't chew gum, I didn't do any of those things. Exercise was hard to adopt an exercise program because I'd never exercised and I was overweight. And eating habits were harder to change than smoking habits.

GUPTA: You look great now. And you and I have talked about this to some extent, but if you had to give tips, the top three tips to viewers out there, what would you say?

KING: Well, you know, you're a neurosurgeon. The brain is the one that's the most active. Your brain should tell you, for example, you know what to do. Who are you kidding? You know what I mean? What do I do, doc? I tell what you do, eat well. And you know what eating -- if it looks wrong, it's wrong. All right? Get -- you don't have to exercise fiercely. You don't have to do an hour. I'm not so sure an hour a day benefits over 15 minutes. Really not sure of that. And there's dispute over that.

GUPTA: Mm-hmm.

KING: And don't smoke. Smoking is the biggest killer there is. So if you don't smoke, eat right, exercise moderately, and then what you have to do is overcome your genes.

My father died of a heart attack. And that I can't overcome. But he died at age 47 and I'm 74. So I've outlived him by that much, you know. And I always thought I'd never live past 47. I formed the Larry King Cardiac Foundation because of all of this. I know how interested you are in people who can't afford it and don't have insurance. I think that's the biggest plight in America.

In fact, it's insane. I think you have the right to help. I think you have the right to it. And therefore, there's no reason why he can get a prescription that he can't get. But he can get surgery that he can't get. It's insane to me.

And we started the foundation, I was sitting around with a bunch of friends and one said what did your surgery cost?

GUPTA: Right.

KING: And I said I don't know, you know, they paid for it. CNN's healthcare paid for it.

GUPTA: Right.

GUPTA: So I looked and I think it was like $46,000. And I said what about people who can't afford that? So I started this foundation. My son is now the president of it. My wife is chairman. And what it does is we help people who can't afford it. We make it possible for people to get heart procedures, surgery, implements to go in. We -- a lot of people help us. And we help a lot of people.

GUPTA: Yes, I tell you, it sort of gives me a little bit of chills. And I was talking to your son back in the green room. And he said that your grandkids, his kids sort of think of you as Marcus Welby even more than the television person. That's got to be a satisfying feeling.

KING: Yes, of all of the things I do, this foundation is the thing I'm proudest of, because it's -- we save lives. When you think of that, when you get a call from someone who says thanks, or you get a little 11-year-old boy whose father dies of a heart attack and he goes out and makes these little red wrist things that I wear called be smart, save a heart, and he sells them and raises money and gives them it the foundation.

There's nothing better than that. Much better than what I do on the air. Save a life, what's better? You, you're a doctor, you save a life.


KING: What a feeling that must be.

GUPTA: It is great. It is a tremendous feeling. And this boy that you're talking about, he actually -- with your help raised enough money to save for dads when his couldn't be saved.

KING: Right. His dad died, but he saved four dads. And that's the biggest joy I get.


GUPTA: Now if you want more information about the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, click over to Plus watch for Larry on the road with me this summer as he joins me for our fifth nation tour. It's going to be great. Check out the location at

Now coming up, battling cancer in the Senate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to lose all of my hair. I'm going to be bald as a billiard ball.



GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. He survived two brain tumors, cancer, and a near-death experience after heart surgery. Now the cancer's back. We've got exclusive inside access following United States Senator Arlen Specter, discovering his uncompromising approach to cancer and chemotherapy.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm sorry I can't shake hands.

GUPTA (voice-over): When a politician cannot shake hands, you know it's serious. Nowadays the risk of Senator Specter getting an infection makes it just too dangerous to shake hands.

SPECTER: It catches up to you later in the process. I'm thin and pale and bald.

GUPTA: Two weeks later, you could already see the early effects of the chemotherapy. I was with Senator Specter just before news broke that his good friend Senator Kennedy had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

How are you feeling, Senator?

SPECTER: Not so hot.

GUPTA: What's plugging you today?

SPECTER: Overhang headache. But I was up at 4:00 and couldn't sleep. Got my squash partners out at 5:30, played a little squash.

GUPTA: Specter is 78. He's played squash for decades. He calls it deposits in the health bank. The doctors say the game helps him endure the chemo. But he knows what happens next.

You're probably going to lose some of -- more of your hair.

SPECTER: No, I'm going to lose all of my hair. I'm going to be bald as a billiard ball.

GUPTA: How are you going to feel?

SPECTER: Well, I can answer that question categorically. I'm going to not mind at all. Hodgkins is about the best of the bad things, the bad things to get.

GUPTA: We all watched Senator Specter's first bout with cancer play out in public. He just won a tough battle for the job he coveted, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he sits two seats away from Senator Kennedy. We watched as the chemo made him balder and paler and weaker and sicker. Here's what we did not know at the time.

From the public's standpoint, they see a guy who is starting to lose a lot of weight, he is becoming bald, he doesn't look well. Yet behind the scenes, if you will, you guys are celebrating?



GUPTA: Welcome back. Before the break, you heard how Senator Arlen Specter is battling his second bout of cancer, and how positive he's staying. But if there's one thing that seems to make the senator angry is that his first diagnosis of Hodgkins back in 2005 was not made earlier.


GUPTA: You've made this interesting allusion in the book. And I talked to your doctors about that your diagnosis may have initially been missed. Maybe doctors initially didn't catch on to the idea that you had Hodgkins.

SPECTER: It wasn't maybe missed, it was missed. It was missed. Now, I started to develop some symptoms in mid-November of 2004. They didn't pick it up until mid February.

GUPTA: As soon as Hodgkins was suspected, the man Arlen Specter turned to was one of Philadelphia's leading oncologists, Dr. John Glick.

You made a house call.


GUPTA: What was he like when you went to his house that day?

GLICK: He was sick. He was not feeling well, but he was already thinking that if he had Hodgkins Disease, how am I going to deal with it? How am I going to live my life normally?

GUPTA: As we said earlier, there was something we did not know as Senator Specter fought his last battle with Hodgkin's. The worse he looked, the better he was getting. In fact, well before this photo with President Bush was taken, Arlen Specter was cancer free.

How worried were you about his future?

GLICK: Within one week of starting chemotherapy, we knew he was responding. Within two months of starting chemotherapy, complete remission.

GUPTA: You know, I see your eyes light up as you start to describe your day. I mean, you almost seem like you get invigorated just talking about all the work you have to do.

SPECTER: Oh, I'm tremendously invigorated by it. There's no time to think about Hodgkins.

GUPTA: There are times every day when the exhaustion becomes too much and Senator Specter retreats on a short underground train ride beneath the Capitol to his secret hideaway, an unmarked office where he has a big comfortable couch.

SPECTER: I got up this morning at 4:00 because I couldn't sleep, played squash until 5:30 and arrived on the couch at 7:30 for an hour's nap.

GUPTA: You know that he's in his 70s. How much of a role or how much of a factor did his age play in your thinking?

SPECTER: Rather than chronological age, you want to assess the physiologic age. So he was a perfect candidate for aggressive treatment of his Hodgkins disease, the same treatment we would give somebody half his age.

GUPTA: The senator seems to be planning on a political future of a man half his age.

SPECTER: If I run in 2010 and win and go again in 2016, win and go again in the year 2022. I'm up for reelection in the year 2028, at that point, I'll be younger than Strom Thurmon was when he was still serving in the United States Senate.

GUPTA: The Specter approach to cancer and everything else really boils down to three words.

Somebody that's struggling with a disease like cancer that's watching right now, what do you tell them?

SPECTER: I tell them never give in.

GUPTA: Never give in. Valuable advice for Senator Kennedy and the rest of us.


GUPTA: Now, the senator has seven more chemo sessions to go. And Dr. Glick says at this point, it's too early to know if it's working. Good luck, senator, we're thinking about you.

Now later in the show, as we age, our list of prescriptions often grows. But do we overdo it? How to tell when too much of a good thing is bad. Plus, you don't have to spend a fortune to get in shape. Meet a man who says weight loss is mind over matter. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Advances in medicine have people living longer and healthier lives. But as we age, managing chronic conditions also means juggling multiple medications. And as Elizabeth Cohen reports, that juggling can lead to major problems that are sometimes hard to catch.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nancy Burns is 71 and lives on her own. She says she's doing great, but that's today. A few years ago, out of nowhere, she started acting strangely.

NANCY BURNS: I was slurring my speech. I was running into walls.

COHEN: And leaving odd voice mails for her daughter, Kelly Phillips.

KELLI BURNS, DAUGHTER: I had four or five messages from my mother wanting to know what day it was, what -- if it was morning or nighttime.

COHEN: Phillips helped rush her mother to the emergency room, where a neurologist diagnosed Alzheimer's disease. Devastated, Kelly and her brother got a second opinion from a geriatrician. The geriatrician informed them it wasn't Alzheimer's at all. Instead, Nancy's medications were causing all the problems.

K. BURNS: My brother and I looked at each other and it was like we knew it. We knew it was something to do with all of the medication that she was on.

COHEN: At the time, Nancy was taking eight different prescription drugs, many of which don't mix well.

(on camera): Of course, only a doctor can make medication decisions, but there is something that you can do to be an empowered patient. Take a look at this Web site. You can type in the names of the drugs that you're taking and the site lets you know if the combination of drugs could make you sick.

(voice-over): Nancy Burns talked with her doctors. And over time, they found four drugs that could treat her health issues and not cause her any problems.

COHEN (on camera): Now, to get to that Web site that I was on that checks drug interactions, go to You'll see links to that site and to many more where you can learn more about over medication and the elderly.

For "Empowered Patient," I'm Elizabeth Cohen.


GUPTA: Coming up, a fitness minimalist telling others why you don't need a gym membership to lose weight. You're going to want to hear the story.

Plus, summer is here. Just ahead, learn why you may end up paying the price for that sunburn even decades later. Stay with us.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. A college professor who believes educating yourself is the key to weight loss success. Says you don't need a gym membership, gastric bypass surgery, or even to spend a lot of money getting the body you want. Now he's inspiring others that less is more to achieving the body of your dreams.

Here's his story.


GUPTA (voice-over): Muata Kamdibe is many things, college professor, minimalist, generally happy guy. Unfortunately, he says, fat guy was the first thing that came to people's minds when they saw him.

MUATA KAMDIBE, LOST 120 POUNDS: I felt like I was a small guy trapped in a large body.

GUPTA: Always a fit kid, it was the stress of college that packed on the pounds.

KAMDIBE: I could remember one year gaining at least 50 pounds in one year.

GUPTA: But the scale in a Vegas hotel would change Muata's life.

KAMDIBE: I stepped on the scale and I was over 300 pounds. It was a weight and a size I told myself I would never get to. I knew I had to do something.

GUPTA: So he started the low carb diet, a home exercise regimen, and an online support network he called the Mr. Low Body Fat Blog.

KAMDIBE: I went to create a blog for the average lay person could understand and realize that they can lose weight. And they don't have to pay a lot of money to a trainer if they figure it out for themselves and understand the process for themselves.

GUPTA: Muata says he became a much more well rounded person.

KAMDIBE: I realized that losing weight was one of the last obstacles I had in really realizing who I am as a person. Now I'm getting to know me. This is the lowest weight I've been in my adult life. The face you're looking at now or the face that I look at every morning is new to me because I never saw an adult Muata face like I do now.

My name is Muata Kamdibe and I've lost 120 pounds.


GUPTA: And coming up, too much sun. It could be bad for your health. You know that. But we have some important advice you're going to want to hear before you head to the beach. It's our topic of the "Ask the Doctor" segment. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: It's time for my favorite segment called "Ask the Doctor." We answer the medical questions that are on your mind. And here's a question from our roving camera.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does sunburn increase your risk of getting skin cancer?


GUPTA: Well, that is a great question, especially as people start heading outdoors for the warm weather. The answer, as you might guess, is yes. In fact, consider this. Just one blistering sunburn as a child doubles your risk of developing melanoma later on. You can damage the DNA of skin cells. Areas that are most at risk are those with high exposure to sunlight at the top of your head, face, ears, arms, and legs.

Now there are some signs to look for. A small growth or sore that heals and then reopens, a change in an existing mole or development of a new mole, or spots on your skin that slowly darken or enlarge. See a specialist if you notice any of those changes. Also obviously, try to avoid staying in the sun for too long. And wear sunscreen, shades, and tightly woven clothing to reduce UV exposure.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.