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Interview with Diana Nyad, Extreme Swimmer; Interview with Christina Applegate; Actress/Breast Cancer Survivor

Aired October 16, 2010 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to the program.

This week's show has some remarkable stories that really inspired me.

First up, this woman over here, Diana Nyad. Her mission: to make a world record swim at the age of 61. And today, she's going to make an announcement, right here on this program. She's going to make it to us. Don't miss that.

Plus, Christina Applegate. First, a breast cancer survivor. Now, she's got a baby on the way. We sat down with her as well to find out what she thinks insurance companies are neglecting that can save your life and has already saved hers. You want to hear that conversation.

And 33 miners trapped, 33 rescued. Ten weeks in a Chilean mine. Question for a lot of people: What are they going to face now?

Let's get started.


GUPTA: Diana Nyad barely missed the Olympics swim team in 1968. But she didn't give up. Instead, she took up a new challenge, which was long distance swimming.

In 1978, she attempted the world's longest ocean swim, 103 miles. A bad weather forced her to quit after swimming for nearly 42 hours. She got right back in the water, the following summer. And to this day, she holds the record for the longest ocean swim without a shark cage, 102.5 miles.

Now, at 61 years old, she's still at it. Training to go back, break her own record and swim 103 miles from Cuba to Key West.

I'm so delighted you're here. I -- you know, I meet people in my life that inspire me. and I've told you this before, I'm not going to embarrass you, again, but you really are just an inspiring person. I'm glad you're here.


GUPTA: It's been just a little bit of time since we saw each other last. You got some big announcements to make. NYAD: I do. I mean, the progression quickly is that, as you said, it had been some time since those days of my 20s. I hadn't swam for 30 years. Last year, I got an inspiration turning 60. I decided to train for Cuba.

GUPTA: Right.

NYAD: The mystique of Cuba was still in my heart and trained for a year, got ready -- got really ready. I was walking around in August like I could walk through brick walls, knew I could do it. And government permissions, winds coming from the wrong direction, lowering sea temperatures, it's been a feeling of helplessness. And I have been, you know, up against a wall against it.

And so, now, we have had to postpone it all the way to next summer. It feels like an eternity right this minute. But I know it will seem like a short time once we get back to organizing.

GUPTA: So, for sure next summer.

NYAD: Yes, for sure. For sure. July.

GUPTA: So many different factors here. You mentioned some of them -- the winds, the temperature, the water.

NYAD: Yes.

GUPTA: What ultimately sort of made it now that you decided to --

NYAD: It was the water temperatures. You know, I need mid-80s, you know? And people at home can say, mid-80s, that's like a bath, come on. It's 77 now, right of Key West.

GUPTA: Right.

NYAD: Way too cold. I'm in hypothermia. I was doing four-hour swims last week and I was in shivers by the end of four hours. So, what are you going to do with 60 hours?

The mind can overcome a lot, as you know. I -- they are rough seas, I could say, well, I don't like it but I'm strong, I'm going to make it through. The hours could go longer. We say 60 hours. If my trainer comes and says, I'm sorry, Diana, we're recalculating, it's going to be 80 hours. I'm tough, I'll go, but I can't pretend the water isn't cold.

GUPTA: Right. Right.

NYAD: I can't get over it mentally.

GUPTA: What is it that -- I mean, that the whole mental toughness, you know, you said this to me before, that anybody can sort of prepare for this sort of thing, but there's a mental toughness that you have that's different. I mean, let me ask a simple question, what are you thinking about when you're swimming for that long? NYAD: Well, you know, it ranges. You know, you go into really sort of deep existential, philosophical thoughts -- you really do -- about life and the meaning of life and what you're doing with your life and the mystery of the universe. And then you are swimming along, singing Bob Dylan songs, you know, beat by beat, just to get through the hours.

GUPTA: Right.

NYAD: And I think that the high of it, though, has sort of a life metaphor is the commitment. If I say I'm going to go from this shore to that shore and I don't care what happens in between, I'm going to stay in there, I don't care if I cry and I scream with pain on the shoulder, I was staying in your life.

I'll tell you the truth, having to break down this crew right now --


NYAD: -- and wait until next summer because of the helplessness of waiting for the weather to change, has been more difficult -- much more difficult than the whole training.

GUPTA: They are part of your family.

NYAD: Yes. Yes.

GUPTA: One thing that comes up a lot, and I want you to take a look at this with me. You don't swim with a shark cage.

NYAD: Yes.

GUPTA: Take a look this some of this video here, specifically, what you are going to see is they're actually going to chum the water and they're going to see what happens with the sharks. No surprise here. That's a chummed line.


GUPTA: Sharks are going right after it.

NYAD: Yes. They are taking the bait. OK.

GUPTA: Now, they are going to basically use a sort of electric probe, they are going to electrically charge an area around this chum. And see what happens. Same chum, electrical line. Sharks aren't getting anywhere near it.

NYAD: Oh, I love this video.

GUPTA: You have not seen this video before.

NYAD: I have not seen it.

GUPTA: This is important. This is the type of technology that could protect you. How do you feel when you look at -- NYAD: Well, you know, I'm pretty sure what they use for this, I don't know if it's exact electricity we use. But we have a device. It's a shark shield. Divers use it to go under. They wrap it around their arms.

But there's a kayak next to me and they literally duct tape this long antenna on the bottom of it. It sends out a field of electricity. But now that I see -- that's the first time I have seen it in video.

GUPTA: We wanted to show you in person.

NYAD: Thank you. Thank you.

GUPTA: And this is something that's obviously necessary to try to keep -- and we wish you the best of luck. We're going to be there with you next summer. Whenever it happens.

NYAD: Thank you. Looking forward to it. Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Diana Nyad, a walking inspiration.

Also, an embryonic stem cell study out there, it's under way now. That's right. For the first time ever, in a human, embryonic stem cell is used to treat spinal cord injuries. We'll tell you all about it.

And now, let's take you back to the moment, an important moment this week, the very first miner stepped out of that rescue capsule. Incredible story, cheers, whistle, along waited embrace, even love stories -- a story of success.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

The Chilean mine rescue was historical. It was emotional. It was simply hard to turn away your eyes from scenes like this.


GUPTA: Thirty-three men pulled to the surface one-by-one. And so many people around the world pleasantly surprised that they were smiling, these men, and had no life-threatening conditions. They spent more than two months in the conditions that the human body just isn't designed for. It was very hot, it was very humid. But it was the overall planning of the rescue and the types of food and medications and hydration these men are being given that made the whle process so successful.

It is likely that the focus is going to be on their psychological condition in the weeks to come. We think it's important to provide updates on exactly how they're doing.

We've been with the story for a long time. We're not going anywhere. We're going to stay on it right here on SGMD.

Also, another historic moment. Twelve years after the first human embryonic stem cells were isolated, the first person has been injected with a product that was derived from human embryonic stem cells. Think about that.

Geron announced the launch of the clinical trial just this week. The company is not revealing a lot about the patient, but he or she was thought to have been paralyzed less than two weeks to qualify for the experimental therapy. The hope is that the cells will repair the damage that's causing the paralysis, like many animal studies have already shown.

But this is amazing stuff. The trial is to determine whether or not this therapy is, in fact, safe for humans. You can bet we are going to stay on that story as well.

And another medical story that made headlines this week, we know there's a spiraling problem with prescription drug abuse. Emergency room visits (INAUDIBLE) painkillers like OxyContin have more than doubled just since 2004.

But now, there's a new treatment. Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration gave its blessing to a medication called Vivitrol. It's actually a new form of an older drug. But there's reason to think that it's going to work much, much better.

We wanted to better sense of how it might help. Take a look.


GUPTA (voice-over): T.J. Voller grew up around cars. It was the family business.

T.J. VOLLER, RECOVERING ADDICT: A '71 Chevelle SS convertible, 383 stroke, a small block.

GUPTA: But six years ago, his life went off the road. At age 23, he got hooked on painkillers.

VOLLER: I went from being on a fast track to being on no track whatsoever.

GUPTA: It all slipped away. Voller sold the cars, one-by-one, for pennies on the dollar. And then his father died and Voller hit rock bottom. All he could think about were the drugs.

VOLLER: That's the biggest thing. You know, you get these mind- crippling cravings and, you know, your mind becomes solely focused on that next fix.

GUPTA: It's not that he didn't try. He was in and out of detox programs 10 times. Nothing worked. Until one doctor tried something new, a monthly shot that blocks the affect of narcotics on Voller's brain. And with that, blocks his desperate desire to get high. VOLLER: I said I'll try anything and I'll give it a 30-day shot, and if it works for 30 days, we'll go from there. But I really was skeptical. But, within the first day of getting my injection, I -- the cravings literally went away. They were nonexistent.

GUPTA: The drug is Vivitrol. It's already being used to treat alcoholics, existing treatments for narcotics addiction involved a daily pill. And doctors say that's a big problem.

DR. PAUL EARLEY, TALBOTT RECOVERY: The majority of narcotic addicts will simply stop taking the drug and they'll bail out of treatment and they'll decide to go another way.

GUPTA: But Vivitrol is a monthly shot. And Voller says that's a huge difference.

VOLLER: I wasn't at a place where I could take a medication once daily on my own. You know, the nice part of the Vivitrol is I get an injection once a month. I don't have to worry about it.

GUPTA: Today, Voller's back in school. He's also back at work and he's back in the garage.

VOLLER: It was four years ago today that my dad passed. And my dad would be proud that I'm doing something with my life today.


GUPTA: And I want to point out, this is not a cure all. It's going to be used in combination with therapy and with counseling. But now that the FDA has approved specifically for narcotic addiction, insurance companies are more likely to pay and this could become much more widely used.

Up next, Christina Applegate. You may remember her from the long- running series "Married with Children." Well, she sat down and spoke candidly with me about her breast cancer.

We'll have that coming up. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: And we are back with Christina Applegate now, Emmy Award- winning actress that you know. She's a cancer survivor. She's also a mother-to-be. And she's speaking out about how she detected the deadly disease of breast cancer.

Knowing that she had a strong family history, Applegate was diligent about getting screened. In fact, she began her regular mammograms at age 30. But it turns out, that wasn't the test she believe saved her life.


CHRISTINA APPLEGATE, ACTRES: It wasn't until I was 35, almost 36 that my -- the doctor I had been getting my mammograms from just said, you know, it's time that we start doing MRIs because of the density and, you know, their inability to really see what was going on. And, you know, luckily for me, you he did do that because they found on the MRI the calcifications which then, you know, through the biopsy found that it was cancer.

GUPTA: So, you were very proactive. I mean, you move down as quickly.

APPLEGATE: Yes. Oh, yes, no, no -- I know how fast -- I mean, to know that in three months this appeared, you know, on a test, this is -- for me, it's not something that you wait. I mean, I think -- I think it's irresponsible for me to say to just go with the first doctors that you hear about. It's irresponsible for me to say that.

I'm kind of that way. I need it now. But I do think it's important to kind of research who you are dealing with and what surgeons you're going to.

GUPTA: Right. And in the past, you decided not to get the genetic testing. But you decided to get it at this point now.

APPLEGATE: I did. My oncologist, Philomena McAndrew, had said, you know, I think it's really beneficial for you, looking at your history and your family, I think you really should know. It might change how you look at all this.

Because she was really pushing for, you know, doing a mastectomy at that time. But when I got the test back that I was positive for the BRCA1 mutation, we had to sit down and have that conversation. And I was really resistant. I was so resistant of the idea of a mastectomy.

I thought this is ridiculous. I'm not doing that. Just having watched my mom go through that for all these years and what it did to her mentally, you know, having a part of her not be the same anymore, and I decided I don't want to do that. You know, I just -- I can't.

But then I looked at these, you know, statistics. I did my own research on it. And who knows? I mean, we don't know really what's going on there, but just to see, sort of the recurrence rate is so high. And I just couldn't sit with that, for me.

GUPTA: What you're describing is something that's happening right now, somewhere in America -- a woman is going through what you just described, making this really tough decision. And you didn't want to have a mastectomy at all. But after all the data came back and you looked at it all and you talked to your doctor, you decided a double mastectomy was the best thing to do.

APPLEGATE: For me. You know, I know I have gotten -- I have gotten some criticism, I'm sure from people who said, you know, what I've done was way too radical. But I just looked at my family and I just thought this is the smartest thing for me to do. This is my best chance of not having to deal with this, with breast cancer ever again for as long as I live. And that's what I just knew and had to do for myself. GUPTA: Any regrets about the operation? Do you ever look back and say, well, maybe it was -- you know, I acted hastily or too quickly or anything?




GUPTA: Any regrets about the operation? Do you ever look back and say, well, maybe it was -- you know, I acted hastily or too quickly or anything?

APPLEGATE: When my head goes into vanity sometimes I go, darn it, you know, I miss those gals. But then, you know, it's closely followed by this is about your life and, you know, what's the sacrifice of that for being able to watch this one grow up and have children of their own. And, you know -- I mean, that's what's really important to me.

GUPTA: Did your doctors and you have a conversation -- because you are a woman of child bearing age. It's one of the things that doctors always ask.

I think I mentioned I have three kids. It's amazing that there's a push it seems for women to nurse. Obviously children, you know, can drink formula. There's a lot of ways to get nutrition.


GUPTA: But was that part of the conversation at all?

APPLEGATE: No. You know what, I mean, if you ask any of our parents from my generation, they didn't nurse. I mean, they -- you know, for maybe a week I think we all turned out pretty OK.


APPLEGATE: I mean, I respect the new thought form that you, you know, must do this, but, you know, you look at a generation ago and they were quickly onto something else. So, I think it will be OK.

GUPTA: I think it was two or three weeks actually, and my mom was back to work.

APPLEGATE: Two or three -- I think my mom was maybe a month, she said.

GUPTA: Right.

APPLEGATE: And I don't recall remember nursing you at all. So, there you go.

And, you know, we're very bonded. She's the closest person I have to me in my life. So -- GUPTA: One of the things I hear all the time as a doctor is that you doctors order too many tests. You order tests for everything. And this has been, I think, part of the reason there's been a hesitation or a slow to sort of act as far as ordering more MRIs for breast cancer.

What do you say to people who say, look, we're a culture of over testing as it is?

APPLEGATE: I can't stress enough that it saves my life. I mean, there's no -- ifs or buts about it. I just had a mammogram. There was nothing on it. You know, this was something that found it at a stage that was -- that was curable instead of a stage where it's not.

I also, unfortunately know, that, you know, the MRI screenings are incredibly expensive and a lot of insurance companies don't cover that, which is why I started my foundation because it just really -- it upset me so much that, you know, these women were opting to not have this really valuable screening because of money and because we're not taking care of these women who are high risk.

So, that's one of the things that really got me when I was going through all of this.

GUPTA: Should insurance companies be hearing what you have to say? I mean, ultimately --

APPLEGATE: Absolutely. This should be a part of it, you know? I mean, we -- you know, MRIs should be in tandem with mammography. That's just what I truly believe. But until then, with Right Action for Women, we're going to provide financial aid to these women.

GUPTA: Well, thanks so much for sharing your story. You know, I think this is really important. I was really excited to speak with you because I -- you know, I think the jury is still out a little bit as you know on exactly how it's going to play out with the screening.

But, I think when people like you speak and you hear that an MRI saved your life, they are expensive, but maybe it's time for them to get cheaper and more widely available.

APPLEGATE: Yes, that would be nice. I mean, you know, I love what my foundation is about to do, but if they could make it so that we don't have to work so hard, that would be really --

GUPTA: Put you out of business.

APPLEGATE: I would -- I would love that. I would love nothing more than to have all of these breast cancer organizations to have to close their doors because we don't have to have this as part of our vernacular anymore. You know, it's just -- it's a dream.

GUPTA: That's well said. Thanks, Christina. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: She's so smart, committed and compassionate on this. Christina Applegate is on a mission. Her foundation is, in fact, providing funding so women at high risk of breast cancer can afford to get MRI and genetic testing if needed. To find out how to apply, in fact, yourself, make a donation if you want, at

Good luck with the baby, Christina.

Now, will eating carrots actually improve your eyesight? So many people say this. Find out if it's true or not. We'll tell you. The answer might surprise.

"Ask the Doctor" -- that's next.


GUPTA: Welcome back to SGMD. It's time to answer your questions. Favorite part of the show for me.

Here is one from Anna Beth in Dayton, Ohio, who asks this: "Are carrots actually good for your eyes or is that just a mom's tale?"

Great question. You know, there's something to keep in mind. Carrots are rich in beta carotene. That's what you got to remember. That helps maintain your strong eyesight.

But if your eyes weren't 20/20 to begin with, eating carrots aren't going to help correct your vision improve. That's why it's critical as you age to consume foods that keep your vision crips and clear.

Now, something happens in your eyes, especially around age 50. People start to notice a decline in their eyesight. In fact, nearly 10 million Americans experience something known as macular degeneration. We're sort of looking at right here in this animation. It develops in the macular tissues surrounding the retina starts to deteriorate and that causes a blurry spot that people has smack dab sometimes in the center of their vision.

Now, interestingly, experts have pinpointed certain foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids could protect your vision the most. In fact, research shows foods high in omega-3 reduce inflammation in the eye, it helps keep the arteries and the blood vessels healthy. Basically, the way to think about it, the same thing that protects the eye also protects your heart. So, when you think about your foods, you want to do both.

In fact, a study out last year showed some specific numbers on macular degeneration in your diet. Eating fish, for example, once a week, reduces your risk of macular degeneration by about 31 percent. Other foods, nuts -- two servings of nuts decrease macular degeneration by 35 percent.

And look at this one, good news here. One tablespoon of olive oil a day drops blurry vision by about a half.

Key ingredient in all of this, again, omega-3 fatty acids. That's the good acids. The good fat.

If you want more tip, if you're thinking about some of these foods now because we just talked about this, the best foods as far as omega-3s go, salmon, tuna and mackerel. As far as the nuts, walnuts are probably the best. Hope that helps you.

And thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.