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New Study: No Link Between MMR Vaccine, Autism; War Wounded Face Health Risks From Embedded Shrapnel; Behind-the-Scenes Look at Rescue Workers

Aired September 7, 2008 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to "House Call," the show that helps you live longer and stronger. First up, I want to talk to you about an issue we promised to stay on top of. Autism and vaccines, there's some new research out there about a possible link. Plus, a potential threat that could be hiding in the bodies of tens of thousands of American soldiers. Right now military doctors are investigating.
And behind the scenes with the medical workers who never leave their post. Even during a hurricane. Finally, it's college football season. You're going to be amazed at the lengths colleges go through to keep their players healthy. One college powerhouse is making sure they are.

We start now with new developments in the search for answers about autism. Just this week a new study provides further evidence that there is no connection specifically between an MMR or measles- mumps-rubella vaccine and autism. Now that MMR shot given between 12 and 18 months has been a concerned to worried parents because previous studies suggested the vaccine caused intestinal problems which then lead to autism.

So to check this theory, researches tested intestinal tissue from small groups of children, some with autism, some without. They were looking for any signs of the measles virus which may indicate the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. They did not find a link. Now, of course, this doesn't address other childhood vaccines and it still leaves scientist and parents alike wondering what causes this disorder in the first place.


GUPTA (voice-over): When Hunter, Nicholas and Zachery Gaston were born seven years ago, their parents were so ecstatic. And for the first 18 months, the boys were typical toddlers. Then something changed.

LYNN GASTON, TRIPLETS MOTHER: It was almost as if a switch, somebody came to our house, and turned the switch off. It was almost as if the first 18 months of their life didn't happen.

GUPTA: Lynn noticed her sons were developing anti-social behavior that scared her. Hunter was licking the wall. Nick wouldn't speak. She went on line and typed in their symptoms. LYNN GASTON: No matter how many times I changed the symptoms around or left one or two off, it kept coming back as autism.

GUPTA: But doctors at that time weren't coming to the same conclusion. When the boys were four, doctors confirmed all three had some variation of autism. A condition they weren't familiar with.

LYNN GASTON: It's not like you can look up autism in the phone book. I couldn't go to the yellow pages and find a doctor. I didn't even know what kind of doctor to go see.

GUPTA: The Centers for Disease Control has only been collecting data on autism since 2001. The year, the Gaston triplets were born. And autism is difficult to diagnose. That's because the conditions and accompanying symptoms vary so widely.

DR. GARY GOLDSTEIN, PRES. KENNEDY KRIEGER INSTITUTE: We don't have an easy handle on it. In autism we don't have a test. We don't have a biopsy. We don't have an image.

GUPTA: Although research points to genetic abnormalities in the development of autism, doctors still believe a trigger sets off autism in a child. It's the trigger that's the mystery.

GOLDSTEIN: It's a combination of being genetically vulnerable and then having some kind of social or toxin exposure that tips you over.

RANDY GASTON, TRIPLETS' FATHER: There's something that's affecting all these children. And it's unfortunate that the families are left to their own device to find out what's going on.

GUPTA: The Gastons are committed to getting their sons the best medical care possible. Perhaps more importantly, showing their children unconditional love.

RANDY GASTON: There's one thing he has to know for the rest of his life that I did everything for him. That's what it comes down to. I did everything for you, buddy. Right? Yes. Yes, OK. You're a good boy. I love you. Give me a hug.


GUPTA: CNN is going to cover autism on a global scale beyond the sound bites. Here at "House Call," we're committed to this. I promise. You're going to find interviews, expert blogs and stories of hope as well at

Now, there's some new concerns for the U.S. military's walking wounded. Tens of thousands of troops face new health risks from potentially harmful shrapnel that's inside their bodies.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned that tens of thousands of wounded troops will be notified they may face a new health risk from the metal shrapnel they carry in their bodies. Active duty troops and veterans wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being asked to be tested to see if the metal inside of them are harmful.

DR. MICHAEL KILPATRICK, PENTAGON OFFICE OF HEALTH AFFAIRS: This is the first time that this kind of monitoring and this kind of long- term look has been done on our war wounded.

STARR: Doctors often leave shrapnel from enemy weapons inside the wounded rather than subject them to additional surgery. If a soldier has shrapnel, blood and urine will be monitored for health effects but fragments already removed are also being looked at also.

This army soldier was wounded in Iraq. He served in special operations. We can't show his face.

VOICE OF U.S. ARMY SOLDIER, 75TH RANGER REGIMENT: This actual piece was on the inside part of my calf muscle sitting next to the tibia bone and for the last two years every time I have seen an x-ray, this piece was always sitting there. So I was concerned.

STARR: Today he's getting the all clear.

DR. JOSE CENTENO, U.S. ARMY RESEARCH SCIENTIST: The basic composition of the fragment is iron. There's nothing to be concerned about.

STARR: Thousands of pieces of shrapnel are going under the microscope. So far no problems. But even so, the military wants to know the health effects of carrying fragments in your body for years or if insurgents have been using unknown harmful agents.

CENTENO: The importance is to be able to determine if the patient has been exposed to elements of toxic concern.

STARR (on-camera): Military doctors say the history of issues like Agent Orange in Vietnam and Gulf War syndrome have taught them that this time they don't want to wait years to find out if there are problems. The medical detective work will go on for decades. They plan to continue to monitor the troops for many years to come. Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


GUPTA: All right. Up next, in the eye of the storm. During the height of Hurricane Gustav emergency medical workers, doctors, nurses, when so many leave, they stay behind. Their stories ahead.

Plus, we have five first aid tips you should always know. It's a "House Call" survive guide book.

And later, painful stuffy sinuses. It's a chronic problem for thousands. We'll get your road to relief in our "Ask the Doctor" segment. Stay with us.


GUPTA: You're watching "House Call." As hundreds of thousands fled inland to escape Gustav, some very important people stayed behind. Their story of braving the storm just ahead.

And college footballers on the field but are they ready to play? We'll tell you the steps one college is taking to keep their athletes safe.

Plus, how a football game and a heart attack scare may have saved this man's life. Bill Novak's incredible story just ahead. We're back in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Roughly two million people fled the Gulf Coast ahead of Hurricane Gustav but for some leaving simply isn't an option. Thousands of rescue workers stay behind so they can save others. I rode along with one EMS director and discovered what motivates some of these unsung heroes to brave the storm.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to help the lady stuck in her vehicle. Do you have the address for us?

GUPTA (voice-over): Today Mike Gulliot's goal that no one dies. As director of Emergency Medical Services at East Jefferson Hospital during a hurricane today will pose a special challenge.

MIKE GULLIOT, E.M.S. DIRECTOR, EAST JEFFERSON HOSPITAL: It was a house burning but it came out as five houses burning and that potentially could have been a whole neighborhood burned down.

GUPTA: He takes me out on patrol right as the worst of the storm starts to hit. You can hear the pounding rain. You can feel the entire vehicle shutter. In an area where nearly two million live, there is no one on the roads.

GULLIOT: It's eerie quiet.

GUPTA: A major American city on a holiday weekend and no one really to be found.

We get a rare look at the levees.

GULLIOT: This is the 17th street Canal -

GUPTA: In the middle of a hurricane.

GULLIOT: You hope the levee holds. If the levee doesn't hold, we're in trouble. It's scary. This is scary. Because this is high. If that section broke on our side of the Parish breaking, anytime. That's high. That's a lot of water. GUPTA: Mike Gulliot has been here through Katrina and other storms. He is one of the guys we hear about. He's one of the guys who always stays.

The governor has been on and the mayor has been on, saying evacuate. I think maybe it's fair to say that you're still here. Did you think about leaving?

GULLIOT: Well, you know, I've been, you know, a paramedic my whole life since I was 20 years old. I don't think about leaving. But I think my priority is just to make sure that my family and my wife safe, you know, my kids are safe and as long as those things are in place, then I look at it as this is our job. I don't see it as something heroic. It's just something we do.

GUPTA: But it is heroic. Staying and trying to protect people from this, an angry Lake Pontchartrain.

The only way that we could even be out here right now is through the assistance of EMS. They brought us out down here to show us exactly what they're concerned about. You can see it behind me. All this water over here, it's really kicking out of Lake Pontchartrain. There are levees all around. The water is nowhere near close yet but the concern is that it might get there. They're patrolling right now in some of the worst conditions to try and see if anybody needs help but at some point even the E.M.S. is going to be told enough, it's time to go in. We're almost there.

It's been a challenging day. But this area just west of New Orleans has a better chance because Mike Gulliot has chosen to stay.

GULLIOT: If you want to go back out again, we can do that. You know.


GUPTA: Well, first aid is something everyone should know whether it's in a natural disaster or a simple mishap at home. So in this week's "Empowered Patient" Elizabeth Cohen offers some tips you don't want to miss. Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, during hurricane season the thoughts of people in the southeast turned to safety and that made us at the "Empowered Patient" think that if there were only five things that we could teach everyone about first aid, what might those five things be? Of course, it's best to have a formal training course in first aid but if you haven't, here are some things that are easy and that really could help someone.

First of all, if someone is bleeding profusely don't put on a tourniquet unless you really know what you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing, you could cause serious harm to that person's limb. Instead, apply pressure and elevate that limb. Second of all, if you're impaled by a foreign object, leave it there and get emergency help. If you pull it out, it may be plugging up a hole in an artery or a vein and you could cause serious bleeding. And also, this is a little less serious but still important. Don't clean the tooth that has fallen out. If it's fallen out, it might have still have ligaments and nerves on it. If you clean those off, that could be bad news. So, what you want to do is take the tooth, don't clean it, put it back in the socket and hold it there until you can get to a doctor or a dentist. Another alternative, especially if a child and you're worried they may swallow that tooth is that you can put it in a glass of milk.

By the way, Sanjay, emergency medicine experts tell me that when a baby tooth falls out they don't put it back in. It's just gone for good. So for more tips go to Sanjay.

GUPTA: All right. Thanks, Elizabeth. My favorite season of college football is now in full swing. And some teams are taking extra steps to make sure their athletes are protected against a dangerous health threat. A surprising one, that story is just ahead.


GUPTA: We're back with "House Call." Checking this week's most viewed stories on the health page now. News that children born to older fathers are at greater risk for bipolar disorder. Now researcher say older starts at age 40. Ouch. But the strongest risk is if fathers to be is 55 and up.

The tiniest of survivors of newborn in intensive care flown to safety, evacuated, ahead of Hurricane Gustav

And baseball gives these kids something to brag about. How America's sport is giving independence to kids with special needs. More on these stories at

Now, it is week two of college football season and the stats are already starting to pile up. Wins, losses, first downs, what about EKGs? They don't make the sport pages but they are vital. Judy Fortin is here with this report.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Before Makiri Pugh ever catches a football during a game for the University of Georgia, he has to go through a battery of medical tests. From his eyes to his blood pressure to his heart.

DR. WINSTON GANDY, CARDIOLOGIST: What they're going to do now is they're just flipping you up to some electrodes, with the things we look for here are your heart rhythm meaning is it regular?

FORTIN: Cardiologist Winston Gandy is part of a them of doctors providing in-depth medical exams for athletes at the University. He says what makes this program different is that it focuses primarily on heart health.

GANDY: There are things that we can sometimes pick up with the electrocardiogram or with echocardiograpy that can clue us into issues that we may need to follow and in some cases issues that potentially could be career ending.

FORTIN: Gandy says the screening provides the athletes with a valuable baseline at an early age.

GANDY: Your heart is normal. It all looks great.

FORTIN: Makiri got more than just a clean bill of health.

MAKIRI PUGH, UGA ATHLETE: Well, it's really somewhat comforting.

FORTIN: There's relief that he is formally cleared to hit the field.

FORTIN: Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: Dr. Gandy volunteers his time as head of a program called "Athletes' Heartbeat," educating the NCAA about the importance of heart screenings for young athletes. You may not know the leading cause of death among these population of young athletes is sudden cardiac death. The goal of these screenings, pick up the abnormalities before trouble strikes.

And now, we got some women's health news. This is pretty dramatic. Scientists found women who smoke have heart attacks almost 14 years earlier than women who don't smoke. 14 years. In addition, smoking may cause women to go into early menopause. So please, put the cigarette down and live a healthier and longer life.

And straight ahead, your heart and your weight. How one man's heart attack scare led him to shed 187 pounds. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: So here's a question. What would it take to change your life? Really change it? Sometimes it takes being scared. In this week's "Fit Nation," we bring you Phil Novak's incredible journey of losing almost 200 pounds saved his life. Take a look.


GUPTA: Just a few years ago, Phil Novak weighed in at 387 pounds. He was not happy with his weight but it wasn't until he and a buddy went to a Steelers game that reality hit home.

PHIL NOVAK, IREPORTER: We were talking back up to our seats. I started to get winded and didn't feel right. I started sweating. You know, I didn't think I would make it back up. I got up there and my heart s beating a million times a minute. Wow, what's going on? I thought I was having a heart attack.

GUPTA: Luckily, it was not a heart attack. He was just badly out of shape. Phil says it was just as scary.

NOVAK: A lot of things went through my head. Not saying good- bye to my kids and stuff like that.

GUPTA: That day Phil started his journey to weight loss.

NOVAK: I walked off my first 100 pounds. Walked it off. I gave an hour a day and I lost 100 pounds. Seven months.

GUPTA: Now 192 pounds lighter, Phil says his keys to success are a low carb diet, a lot of exercise and a lot of determination.

NOVAK: I feel like a young guy. People always come up to me and they say you look good. I go, I feel a million pounds better than I look.

GUPTA: So, would he ever allow himself to get that heavy again?

NOVAK: No way. I'm never going back there. I feel too good to do that. You know, there's no way. My name's Phil Novak and I lost 192 pounds.


GUPTA: And coming up, whether you work in a noisy environment or like listening to your mp3 at the highest volume, you could be doing some serious damage to your ears. How much damage? How long can it lasts? It's one of the topics of this week's "Ask the doctor" segment. That's after the break. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: And it's time for our segment, "Ask the Doctor." A chance to answer the medical questions that are on your minds. Our first question comes from Arnold in Illinois who asked this. "I have chronic sinus problems and I wonder what can be done to relieve or improve this problem?"

Arnold, great question. A common questions. There is something known as chronic sinusitis affecting more than 30 million Americans. Now, doctors usually recommend a minimum of a month on antibiotics. In addition to decongestants or oral steroids. There are some other options which include antihistamines which can help with drainage, saline nasal spray to help loosen dry mucus in the sinuses and even immunotherapy to reduce your response to certain allergens.

Now, in case you're curious, surgery is on option for patients who don't respond to any of those other therapies. You'd likely need a CT or a CAT scan to see if that might help decide. Hope that helps, Arnold.

Here's another question from Naveeid in New Jersey, asked this "I wanted to know if the ears hair follicles regenerate and if the cochlear nerve damage can be reverse after hearing loss?"

Naveeid, there is an exciting preliminary research that indicates that hair cells in bird cochlea are able to regenerate. Fascinating stuff but it hasn't yet been replicated in people. So, for now, the answer to you question is no but if you're hearing loss is doing the damage in your inner ear, wearing a hearing aid or a cochlear implant to compensate for damaged parts may be your best option.

Now remember, inner ear damage is not reversible but it is preventable for everyone else out there. Protect your ears by not listening to extremely loud music for long periods of time. If you are consistently in a noisy environment, consider wearing hearing protectors and scheduling regular hearing tests to catch the earliest signs of hearing loss.

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, "House Call" is the place for the answers to all your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.