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Herman Cain's Cancer Battle; Worldwide Fight Against AIDS; Overcoming Obesity

Aired October 22, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello, and thanks for joining us. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

This morning, a CNN exclusive. Two doctors, brothers, internationally acclaimed, and then imprisoned for their work fighting AIDS. They are finally free. And they are here to tell everyone their story.

Plus, the not-so skinny on lunches. We'll check in with my elementary school back in Michigan to see what's on the menu nowadays.

And, also, a healthy dose of inspiration. I'll introduce to a young man who overcame obesity, lost half his body weight in the process.

Now, we begin with health care. Highlights from the CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate this week. Moderator Anderson Cooper continued to press former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on his state-mandated health care law.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was in interviews in this debate stage with you four years ago. I was asked about the Massachusetts plan. Was it something I'd impose on the nation? And the answer is absolutely not, it was something crafted for a state.

I've said time and again, Obamacare is bad news. It's unconstitutional. It costs way too much money, $1 trillion. And if I'm president of the United States, I will repeal it for the American people.


GUPTA: And Mr. Romney also said the people of Massachusetts favor his state-mandated health care by a 3-1 margin. And it's true. We check into this. Polling shows it is popular.

Now, meanwhile, our most recent CNN/ORC Poll, which I should note, was conducted before Las Vegas debate shows Mitt Romney and Herman Cain in a statistical dead heat leading the race. But perhaps even more interesting, while Romney's numbers have climbed slightly, Cain's numbers have tripled nearly since September.

It's Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan that has received the most media attention. But, you know, this morning, I want to shine the spotlight on something else, his battle with cancer.

Mr. Cain spoke about it earlier this week on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT."


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: There's a reason, I think, you are seen as a fighter, and that is the extraordinary battle you waged with cancer.


MORGAN: Tell me about the moment you found that you had -- I mean, not just mild cancer, you were hit full on.

CAIN: Stage four. When I first got my first CAT Scan, I thought it was just in my colon. And after the doctor did the colonoscopy, he said, well, there's something called resection, they could take part of it out. The incidence of success is very high.

So, I said, "OK, how do we get this done? Let's get a plan together. You know, what's the game plan, et cetera."

It wasn't until I went to the surgeon with all of the test results and had a discussion with her, and she said near the end of the discussion, "Well, you have stage four cancer." I said, "What is that?" She said, "That's as bad as it gets."


GUPTA: And Mr. Cain said he was given just a 30 percent chance of survival.

Dr. Cathy Eng is one of his doctors. She's also the associate medical director of the Colonrectal Cancer Center at M.D. Anderson, and she joins me this morning from Washington.

Good morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

Kathy, I know you can't speak specifically to Herman Cain's case due to privacy laws, but he's obviously written a lot about this.

Generally speaking, colon cancer is the third most common cancer. He had stage four specifically. When you first heard that, I mean, what are the odds for someone like him? What makes a difference in his survival?

DR. CATHY ENG, M.D. ANDERSON CANCER CENTER: Well, what really makes a difference here is, number one, how extensive the disease is. And in his case, as well as in other patients, there are those individuals that can undergo surgical resection. And that's a decision made between a group of doctors, usually a medical oncologist and a surgical oncologist -- and sometimes if the tumor is still intact in the colon and rectum, as well as a colorectal surgeon.

So, it's a decision that's created by looking at all the diagnostic studies like CT scans, X-rays, and everything else, and really looking at the patient as a whole, and making a decision upon whether or not they can or cannot be surgical resected, because that's really the way to cure the patient.

GUPTA: Right. And my understanding is that he had chemotherapy, then he his operation to remove the cancer from his colon and his liver, then he had more chemotherapy -- all of this five years ago. What can we say about his status now? No one has used the word cured. They have said they don't see any cancer in his body.

How do you describe it?

ENG: Well, not necessarily pertaining to his case per se, but for any individual that has stage four disease, meaning that it's -- it has spread to other -- another organ outside the colon or rectum, they can be cured with surgery, and that's what is the most important thing, I think, to keep in mind. The odds for an individual that cannot go to surgery are not as favorable as someone that can go to surgery, with an expected five year survival anywhere from 35 percent to 65 percent. So, it's all very favorable.

And, in fact, within two years from the surgical resection, that's the highest risk of recurrence. But most individuals, we follow them out for at least five years, at that time point, you know, they may follow up with their own primary care doctor or just come see us annually. So the risk of recurrence is extremely low usually at five years out, versus individuals that can't go on surgery. Obviously, those individuals -- those patients we follow on the regular basis they're continuing to get additional treatment.

GUPTA: You know, there's been a lot made of screening lately. One third of Americans who should be screened for colon cancer still aren't. We talk about this all the time on this program.

What would you say as someone who specializes in this area? Obviously, we know colon cancer doesn't have to be diagnosed at such an advanced stage as it was with Mr. Cain, for example. But what do you tell people about early detection and prevention in general?

ENG: OK. So, the one thing I want people to keep in mind is, number one, colon cancer is a very common cancer. As you stated, it's the third most common cancer here in the U.S. It's actually even a global problem. The average age of the individual is 70 and this all starts off with a polyp which is a noncancerous growth, as you know, and it takes about five to 10 years to become a tumor or cancer.

So, the best way to prevent this is screening. And that's usually with the colonoscopy. People tend to forget that 70 percent of all colorectal cancers are not due to any inherited form. It's honestly due to something that happens sporadically, and it's very important to get screened.

And if they get the colonoscopy or any other type of screening test that will help diagnose this early on, it can really save their lives. I mean, this is a very preventable cancer compared to other different cancers, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Colon cancer is probably the most preventable cancer.

GUPTA: Dr. Cathy Eng, thanks so much. Thanks for taking good care of him as well. Really appreciate your time this morning.

ENG: Thank you so much for having me here.

GUPTA: Thank you.

And coming up, true courage. Against all odds, these two brothers built one of the world's most successful programs to fight AIDS. They did it in Iran.

It got them sent to prison and it became a worldwide cause. We'll explain. It's a CNN exclusive.

That's next.


GUPTA: You know, I like to talk with doctors who work in some tough places. Two brothers, Kamiar and Arash Alaei, risked their lives to help people with AIDS quite literally. They did it for nearly a decade in their native Iran. Three years ago, it got them sent to prison. Imagine that.

After an international campaign on their behalf, first Kamiar was sent free and then Arash who finally made it to the United States just this week.

And let me point out, I mean, you literally are seeing each other for the first time in over three years. You were imprisoned. You got out about three years ago, right, Kamiar? And then, just -- you are just flying back to the States now.

I mean, it's a strict society. I mean, I think that's safe to say, right? And a lot of people watching now have never been to Iran. They don't know what it's like. You both do.

How -- we're going to talk about what specifically led to imprisonment, but how strict was it? If you say, look, I'm a doctor I want to take care of patients with HIV/AIDS. I want to do needle exchange programs because it can save lives -- what was the response?

KAMIAR ALAEI: We wanted to clarify that this was not due to inappropriate programs. And that was -- the issue was that it took a time at the beginning. But we rephrased when they said are you working with the sex workers? We said, no, we are working with women, you know? And based, you know --

GUPTA: Some was the presentation of language?

K. ALAEI: And the rephrasing. In Iran, in Islam, between bad and worse, bad is better. For example, alcohol is prohibited, but you can drink water but alcohol to save your life. Condom is bad, but HIV is worse, so let's have condom. GUPTA: Arash, did you think I believe in this so much that I will go to prison potentially for what I believe and the work that I'm trying to do? Did that cross your mind?


GUPTA: Because you --

ALAEI: Maybe, because, you know, at that time they didn't like to accept any activity in the field of HIV/AIDS, from religious people and from government side. When we have been in prison, we saw different response from prisoner and imprisonment. So maybe.

GUPTA: What is the reaction from the government now?

K. ALAEI: As you know, at the beginning when we started, there were more reformists. And that time, there was opportunity that we could do some kind of community-based. But when the new administration came and they said, we don't have high-risk behaviors, we don't have, you know, gays, we don't have sex workers, we don't have other high-risk behaviors, that was that the people who felt they were at risk, it was less likely they go to the clinics.

A. ALAEI: You know, when we started the program, it was reformist party duration, so they accept our program and they gave us the atmosphere to present our program and we have been in schools and universities to present and to expanding education in the field of HIV/AIDS. When it shifts from reformist to conservative, they close all programs in universities and students. And so, by this way, I think step by step, they are going to go to close program for AIDS, not only for HIV/AIDS but for open societies.

GUPTA: What was the specific charge, though, against you? If you are doctors, still ultimately trying to take care of your patients, what do they say you're being charged with?

K. ALAEI: And that was the issue. They said communication.

GUPTA: What does that mean?

K. ALAEI: They call it article 508, which they can say if you have any communication with enemy governments to overthrow. So, but it's -- you know there is a way --

GUPTA: Was there any truth to any of that?

K. ALAEI: No. All we did was help raise the issues, and make it transparent, and that was the issue. We got shocked after eight months, investigation, in solitary for months, we went to court, and they said, you had this? I said, what we -- all we did was, you know, transparent.

But, you know, we had only 10 minutes in this trial.

GUPTA: What was the experience like being in prison? K. ALAEI: You know, this is the thing between the prison staff and the -- some officials that they put prisoners under pressure. So we are suffering a lot for eight months, you know? Two months in solitary, six months living with drug dealers.

But inside the prison, we can try to help and to motivate prisoners to wash their hands after using bathroom, have morning exercise. We encourage them to, you know -- some prisoners who knew other languages, educate English. I learned Spanish in prison.

GUPTA: Is that right?

K. ALAEI: Because I wanted to do for Latinos.

So, we wanted to motivate the prisoners not have another prison inside the prisoners. We had a line for smoking and nonsmoking in the yard. So, every month --

GUPTA: These are things --


K. ALAEI: All in the prison. But after eight months, the minister of interior got fed up so they moved us to bakery and chicken. So, I work on the potatoes and I work on the bakery. So I realized that bread is distributed to the prisoners. Let's have healthier bread.

So, we motivated prisoners to wash their walls, wash the grounds, you know, to clean, no smoking there. So, we continue. This is the message, you know?

GUPTA: Even in prison, you were giving out these messages.

K. ALAEI: Everywhere you are, if you believe in your work, if it's believed by the government or not, keep going until the last moment of your life.

GUPTA: That's an incredible message.

A. ALAEI: They cannot change the mind of the people. Maybe they can put us in prison, but they cannot change the mind of people.

K. ALAEI: The first thing in prison, you think you're forgotten, especially your family. So, when you see thousands of, you know, mails, thousands of messages come, it touches your heart.

GUPTA: That makes -- it gives me goose bumps a little bit.

Doctor --

K. ALAEI: Thank you so much.

GUPTA: Doctor --

ALAEI: Thank you. GUPTA: Thank you. Welcome back. I'm glad you guys are safe. You guys are doing some really incredible work. Very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

K. ALAEI: Thank you so much.

GUPTA: We'll have more this weekend as well on Iran on CNN. Fareed Zakaria is going to interview an Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That's from Tehran. You just heard a suggested question from the doctors over here. That's Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

But still right ahead here on SGMD, take a look at this kid. Any guesses on who it might be? The answer when we come back.



GUPTA: Recognize those guys? Some classic "Saturday Night Live" there, "Lunch Lady Land." Adam Sandler and the late Chris Farley.

We're going to have much more on school lunches in just a second.

But, first, let's give you the answer to that question I asked right before the break. Recognize this little guy?

That's me back in elementary school back in Michigan.

I'm sharing this picture -- boy, crazy to look -- I'm sharing this picture to have a little fun because I really do want to talk about the school lunches and how important they are for so many American kids, a topic important to us.

The school lunch program began during the Great Depression. During that time the government bought food from farmers to help keep them afloat during the tough economic times. It also helped feed kids who weren't getting enough to eat. It all made perfect sense.

But we all know what happened to our kids' lunchrooms nowadays -- pizza, fries, soda, sweets. We see that way too often. Sometimes, the result of outside vendors coming when school budgets simply could no longer keep up.

I wanted to know incidentally what they were serving these days at my old high school, Buchanan Elementary.

Mrs. Fresh, that's really her name, she faxed us the menu. So, on Monday, they're going to be serving popcorn chicken with carrot coins, are a chef salad with a muffin.

But part of the problem is: how many kids are going to go for the salad?

There's also a nutrition card incidentally available every day with each entree, you get a choice of fresh fruits, veggies. And take a look at this, full lunch price, still pretty low, not quite as low as I remember at $3.25, a reduced lunch only cost 40 cents.

Lots to talk about now. Joining me is someone who is trying to make a lot change for our schoolchildren all across the country. In New York is Taja Sevelle. She's the founder of the group called Urban Farming. They build garden in urban areas where fresh produce is not available.

Taja, this is something we've been beating a drum on for some time. I'm so glad you are doing this.

First of all, how did you get -- you're a recording artist, how did you get started in this area?

TAJA SEVELLE, FOUNDER, URBAN FARMING: Well, you know, I was recording a C.D. for Sony in Detroit, Michigan, and I started to become acquainted with all the job loss in that city and the vast amounts of unused land in the city. And I put my music career on the backburner, and I started an organization called Urban Farming in 2005.

And what we do is we plant food on unused land and space, and we give it to people and we encourage others to plant food as well.

GUPTA: That's good.

SEVELLE: So, we started in 2005 with three gardens, you know, a pamphlet and $5,000 and now, we have over 50,000 residential and community gardens across the country and abroad.

GUPTA: And they're not just for schoolchildren, right? I mean, you're trying to use these gardens in a way to help the entire community?

SEVELLE: Absolutely. I mean, our goal is to get rid of hunger in our generation and there are many things that we do to achieve that goal. But, certainly, putting gardens at schools and after-school facilities is a big thing. And we intersect with the childhood obesity issue.

And so, you know, our gardens are a learning experience for the children and for adults. And it's really interesting to see what happens on these gardens when the youth become, you know, they come out to the garden and become familiar with planting, and, you know -- I mean, I've seen a lot.

We've actually had students, particularly students that are from the city, that have never really had a chance to see where their food comes from. You know, some interesting responses.

We had one 17-year-old that asked her teacher, she pointed to an eggplant and said, what's that? And the teacher said that's an eggplant. And she said, is that where eggs come from?

And so, it's -- you know, it's bittersweet, it's sad, you know, but at least she learned that day where eggs come from and where they don't come from.

GUPTA: Right. Taja, again, I'm glad you're doing this. I hope we can catch up with you again. Wish you the best of luck. Thanks. SEVELLE: Thank you so much. Thank you.

GUPTA: And up next, we're staying on topic there. I'm going to introduce you to a young man who literally cuts himself in half, his weight that is. We're going to see how he overcame obesity, shed half his body weight and we can all learn from this.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: Welcome back.

This morning, I want to introduce you to a teenager who through sheer will and with the support of his family, overcame morbid obesity. He lost half his body weight. He's now on a mission to help others.


SANJAY (voice-over): At 18, Taylor LeBaron is already an accomplished author. Last year he wrote a book called "Cutting Myself in Half." It's about his battle with childhood obesity. You see, LeBaron was always a chubby kid. In grade school, he was constantly teased and picked on.

TAYLOR LEBARON, AUTHOR, "CUTTING MYSELF IN HALF": People just put me down for no real reason other than the fact that I have a weight issue.

GUPTA: As a teen, a walk to the mailbox left him short of breath, lightheaded. He already had high blood pressure.

One day, he stepped on a scale and got what he says was the shock of his life.

LEBARON: And the number was 297 pounds and I'm 14 years old and I'm alone in this room and I'm, like, oh, my goodness. I'm not even an adult and I weigh nearly 300 pounds.

GUPTA: Frightened, he immediately stopped eating junk food and he began to count his calories. He started exercising at home, taking long walks.

An avid video gamer, he made up a game to track how much he was eating and how much he was exercising. Four months later, unhappy with his progress, he started going to the YMCA to work out. Eventually, the weight started coming off.

LEBARON: The gym membership is really what made everything click together and that was the other half of what I needed to do in order to change my life.

GUPTA: And the payoff was big. In 18 months, Taylor shed 150 pounds.

LEBARON: I did a pretty good job.


GUPTA: Today, Taylor is a freshman at Washington College in Maryland. He's healthy. He's fit. It was a long, hard-fought battle, one that he now shares with kids when speaking at schools about obesity.

LEBARON: My goal is to be able to help on other kids get their weight under control. Everyone deserves to be amazingly amazing. And I really think that if you believe in yourself, that's the key part is to believe in yourself, then you can make it happen.


GUPTA: Here's another important point. Taylor says he's determined to keep the weight off. He no longer has high blood pressure and he still counts calories and exercises five days a week and is happy as he says to be just another student on campus.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. Thanks for being with us.

Also, stay connected throughout the week on my Lifestream, You can also follow me on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

We'll see you back here next week and time to get you a check of the top stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM."