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HIV/AIDS Out of Control; Fast Food Filth; Newfangled Fruit

Aired December 3, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning and welcome to SGMD.

You know, we just marked World AIDS Day, and it's a time for all of us to unite in some ways in the fight against HIV.


GUPTA (voice-over): A quarter of Americans with HIV/AIDS have the disease under control. We'll show you the struggle, and a man who may have been cured of AIDS.

Also, restaurant playgrounds that are also breeding disease.

And tomatoes put to the test. We've got some shocking facts about that shiny, red fruit.


GUPTA: Thirty years ago, there was an ominous report from the CDC. Five men in Los Angeles all with a mysterious new disease. All five of them eventually died and all they had in common was a trashed immune system. They didn't know each other. They had no apparent connection.

We now know they had AIDS. Since then, it's killed nearly 30 million people -- 34 million more are living with HIV. That's the virus that causes AIDS. More than a million of them are in this country alone.

This week, I was part of an event to raise awareness and try to better fight back against HIV and AIDS.


GUPTA: The beginning of the end of AIDS. I like the way that sounds. I like the way that sounds when I first heard it. I like the way that while some problems here in D.C. at times seem too big, too difficult, this devastating disease, we can tackle. We can put HIV/AIDS on the run, so to speak.

The beginning of end of the AIDS is something that allows us to stand at that most perfect union of audacity and achievability. Thing about what is audacious, what is achievable, that intersection, that's where we want to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GUPTA: The organizations One and Red have laid out three major goals to hit by 2015 and they're pretty ambitious. Number one, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the virus. Number two, to have 15 million people treated by 2015. And number three, keep coming up with new ways to stop spreading the infection.

There's no doubt we're in a lot better shape than we were 30 years ago. We know what causes AIDS and we have medicines to treat it to a point. But I've been told and shown over and over again, do not be fooled. Still, each day, nearly 7,000 people worldwide are newly infected with HIV.

And in 2011, in one of the epicenters of the AIDS epidemics right here in the United States, it still feels like 1981.


GUPTA (voice-over): For the last 18 years, Angelle Vuchetich has walked through these doors at the Ponce De Leon Clinic in Atlanta. It's one of the largest AIDS clinics in the country.

ANGELLE VUCHETICH, PONCE DE LEON CLINIC: This whole building is more like a day hospital. We have five main clinics, nine subspecialty clinics, all the AIDS services organizations are on site here for support.

GUPTA: It started as a small infectious disease clinic on the grounds of Grady Memorial Hospital 25 years ago when Angelle was charged with crafting a response to the growing AIDS epidemic.

VUCHETICH: We were operating seven days a week, 12 hours a day with 100 percent terminal population.

GUPTA (on camera): Every patient you took care had died.

VUCHETICH: Every patient I took care had died. We --

GUPTA: What was that like emotionally?

VUCHETICH: The fact that these folks are dying does not scare me. The thing that was a challenge was I was told I wouldn't get anybody to work with me.

GUPTA (voice-over): Because at that time, doctors still didn't know how the disease was spreading. There was a lot of fear.

(on camera): What about other doctors or other nurses in the hospital? How did they treat you?

VUCHETICH: I was the AIDS nurse. Most of them didn't.

GUPTA: So, they wouldn't be around you?

VUCHETICH: It was a pretty lonely existence.

GUPTA (voice-over): Today, they have over 5,200 patients, all in advanced stages of the disease.

(on camera): So, what is this area where we're standing?

VUCHETICH: Well, this is treatment and holding. We do infusions through here. Our big piece that's tremendously growing are AIDS- related malignancies.

GUPTA (voice-over): This is the infusion center. They see about 300 patients a month here, about 60 of those are going to need hospitalization.

Vuchetich says for the last decade, the face of AIDS at the clinic has shifted dramatically from white gay to young gay African-American men.

VUCHETICH: They are coming in here with advanced disease and T-cells less than 25. They have all of these infections that a lot of the medical community in the United States, as well as the population just believes AIDS is all over in Africa. And we're sitting in an endemic here in the Southeast that to me looks exactly like 1989.

GUPTA: That was the year Frederick Harris was diagnosed.

FREDERICK HARRIS, AIDS PATIENT: I thought my life was over. You know, because at the time, I was a drug user also. And just felt -- because back then, you know, they didn't really give you much time with it.

GUPTA: The 49-year-old is heterosexual. He and his ex-wife, who is also positive, have a 16-year-old daughter. She's negative.

Harris used to take 20 pills a day. Now, he takes four, and he gets regular three-month checkups at Ponce.

(on camera): What is it about this place, this particular clinic, that's so important for someone like you?

HARRIS: The nurses and the doctors really seem concerned. They have a lot of programs to help you, you know, with food and housing and all kinds of things. So, you know, this place gives you practically everything that you'll need.

GUPTA (voice-over): Angelle calls it a medical home, one-stop shopping. Her days are filled with rounds and patient care.

(on camera): What is the biggest change since '81 when we first diagnosed this disease in this country?

VUCHETICH: The biggest change is this is not an illness that should cause someone to die.

GUPTA (voice-over): Harry is a 36-year-old gay man with full-blown AIDS. He doesn't want his identity revealed because he hasn't told his family. He was diagnosed three years ago at Grady. His T-cell count was 120.

"HARRY," AIDS PATIENT: I was kind of scared, well, people don't, you know, see me in a whole different light now that I'm positive. But I had to get my personal feelings out of the way because I knew I needed the help.

GUPTA: Harry has a number of health problems. So, for him, the clinic has been a lifeline.

HARRY: It makes me feel good that I can open up and talk to my doctor about stuff going on in my life and he's able to offer not only medicine but advice and give comfort.

GUPTA (on camera): What is the hardest part of this job for you?

VUCHETICH: There are 20-year-olds coming in here with advanced end- stage disease. And that's a bit despairing, when I know that just shouldn't have to happen.

GUPTA (voice-over): But it is happening on five floors of this Atlanta clinic. Angelle has witnessed 25 years of suffering, of death, of dying. It's taken its toll.

And although she hasn't given up hope, she says she doesn't see an end in sight.

(on camera): How long will you do this job?

VUCHETICH: I don't know. I'm not certain about that.

GUPTA (voice-over): For now, she's committed to training the next generation of nurses.


GUPTA: You know, one man's story is giving many hope in the AIDS community and researchers as well. In 2008, he was known simply as the Berlin patient, who's HIV appeared to have been cured after undergoing cancer therapy.

Now, a year ago in an article in the German magazine, "Stern," Timothy Ray Brown revealed his identity and is speaking out as an advocate to try to find a cure for AIDS for everyone. And he joins me now from New York.

First of all, thank you very much for joining us, Timothy. As I said, I think you -- it's a remarkable story.

You were living in the German capital in 1995. You were diagnosed with HIV. You began taking anti-retroviral drugs at that time to keep the virus in check.

And then in 2006, you were told you had leukemia, a blood cancer. You had chemo. It failed. And you're told you needed a bone marrow transplant.

I say all that to give people sort of the background on you. Tell us what happened next? TIMOTHY BROWN, CANCER PATIENT: I got my blood tested for the stem cell transplant. And there were 233 donors which is a huge number of donors for a transplant because it goes to a "world bank" to look for donors. Some people don't even have any donors.

GUPTA: So, they're trying to find a donor for your leukemia.

Just to back up for a second here, timothy, they also want to find a donor who might have a mutation that was protective against HIV. A lot of people don't realize that there is such a thing, but that's what he was trying to do was essentially find you bone marrow that would treat your cancer and protect you against HIV. Is that right?

BROWN: Yes. Correct.

GUPTA: Because of your HIV, your immune system was already compromised. So, what did it feel like? What did you have to go through?

BROWN: I had to have another round of chemotherapy and also a full body radiation treatment.

GUPTA: So, you had been irradiated, you received more chemo. You got this -- then the transplant did go through.

At what point did, at what point did they come to you and say, look, this transplant worked as far as your leukemia goes specifically. Was there a point where the doctor said, Timothy, good news, we've had success here.

BROWN: They did feel that it was successful because my immune system had been replaced by the donor's immune system and was able to start working again, started going to the gym and working out and gotten to shape.

GUPTA: This virus can hide. And sometimes you don't know it's hiding. In your case they looked for it, they can't find it. Your immune system is working.

BROWN: Right.

GUPTA: What does this mean, Timothy, for the rest of the people who are living with this disease who hear this story and are inspire. What does this mean for them?

BROWN: It means that this is a case in point that the disease can be cured. I don't wish what I went through on my worst enemy, and I -- but I'm hoping that it can be done in a more simple way that can be -- that can be translated to treat a cure for the entire world, all people that have HIV.

GUPTA: So many scientists and doctors are still learning, as you know. We don't have a cure that's applicable.

BROWN: Right. GUPTA: -- at large, but, again, I've about been wanting to talk with you for some time. I'm so glad you make some time for us. And hopefully science will move forward, in part, because of your inspiration, Timothy. Thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you very much.

GUPTA: And up next, as a parent, you don't want to miss this. Fast food play areas, a breeding ground for bacteria like ones you wouldn't believe until you see this. Stay with us.



ERIN CARR-JORDAN, CHILD/ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY: Oh, my gosh. This place is disgusting. Yes, you want your kids playing there.


GUPTA: You're listening to Erin Carr-Jordan there. She's a bacteria fighting mom and she's doing something kind of interesting. She's documenting the filth she finds in fast food restaurant play areas.

And like me, she's concerned about her children's safety.

Now, Erin, I met you back in October. You told me your story back then.

And I've got to tell you, as a parent myself, I was so interested in what it is you're doing. Can you start off by telling us what prompted you to start looking into these fast food restaurant play areas?

CARR-JORDAN: Right. My son had to use the restroom on the way to school and I followed him in to the bathroom, obviously, and when we were leaving, he asked to go down the slide in the establishment. And I said sure, of course. You know, any mom and their kid wants to go to the slide.

But immediately when we entered, we noticed that it was beyond disgusting. It was covered in black goo. There was so much stuff on the Plexiglas that you couldn't see out the window.

There was large gashes in the slide. It was covered from head to toe in gang tagging and profanity. Ketchup was on squirted on the wall and children's hair got stuck in it and it smelled like hair and feces.

And after complaining over the course of a month when they didn't take any corrective measures, I wondered how that could possibly be and why there wasn't anything that the health department could do about it.

So, I started reaching out all over establishments all over the state of Arizona and then I started looking all over the country to see if there was a pattern.

GUPTA: When you describe it, I mean, does that sound disgusting, that play area that you're describing really obvious that that one's filthy. But what are you finding at other play areas. You've gone in and actually started testing all sorts of different places. What are you seeing?

CARR-JORDAN: We're seeing pretty consistently the same sorts of things. The bacterial counts are typically very, very high. They're in thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and in many cases in the millions.

And it's my understanding from the microbiologist with whom I've had conversation that anything in the hundreds is considers something that's at risk and indicative of a place not being cleaned properly.

You know, when you do this, you go into these restaurants and you go into play areas, you are actually going around and swabbing and you're doing this all in your own, at your own expense, I should point out as well.

What is the response, I mean, from the owners of the restaurants or the people around you? What do they tell you?

CARR-JORDAN: You know, more people ask me now what I'm doing because more people have become familiar with the story, and it depends on the establishments. Since there are no across-the-board standard, it really does depend on the establishment, the manager, the owner/operator. Some are very receptive and say thank you so much for telling me us.

And others, you know -- ban you.

GUPTA: Have you been banned?

CARR-JORDAN: Yes, I have from eight in Arizona.

GUPTA: Is that right? They just -- they check your ID at the door and say you can't come in here? How does that work?

CARR-JORDAN: I don't know because I haven't tried go in. It was hand delivered to my front door. I had returned from vacation and it was a letter hand delivered to my door that indicated I was prohibited from entering the premises.

GUPTA: I have kids. You have kids. What's the -- first of all, are their problem establishments and what am I to do as a parent about all this?

CARR-JORDAN: So I would say -- and this isn't really where I started. I would say now I would not take my children to an establishment that I wasn't 100 percent positive had a protocol in place for cleaning, including sanitization and disinfection and maintenance. And that means that they're following guidelines set forth by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the FDA and CDC. And I would make sure that I was reaching out to my legislators. And please, everybody, do this. Say you would support the bill, kids play safe bill. We grant regulatory authority to the health departments that says you can come in, you can look, you can inspect, and if there's a problem, you can have them -- a cease and desist or abasement order, or they can be shut down if it is a continuous problem.

GUPTA: I really appreciate your time. Good luck. Please keep us posted. We'll have you back on to talk about it.

CARR-JORDAN: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

GUPTA: Well, from freaky play space bacteria to some freaky fruit as well. My next guest says modern industrial agriculture is destroying our most alluring fruit, the tomato.


GUPTA: Did you know this grocery store tomato has 14 times more sodium, 62 percent less calcium than a tomato from 1960? Think about that for a second. How did this happen exactly?

Journalist Barry Estabrook traces how today's tomatoes went from vine- ripened to gas-ripened as you call it in your book, "Tomatoland."

Congratulations on the book. It's fascinating read.

First of all, you pick tomatoes off the vines when they're ripe, right? That's what you're supposed to do?

BARRY ESTABROOK, AUTHOR, "TOMATOLAND": That's what you're supposed to do.

GUPTA: What's gas-ripened?

ESTABROOK: Well, in the Florida tomato industry, which is where the vast majority of our winter tomatoes come from --

GUPTA: Right.

ESTABROOK: -- they're picked green. A hint of pink is taboo.

GUPTA: Because they want to let it ripen off the vine?

ESTABROOK: Well, they don't want to let it ripen off the vine. They take these green tomatoes and expose them to ethylene gas. And the tomatoes don't get ripe but obligingly turn the right color.


GUPTA: This is like a hard ball, by the way. In fact, that's --


GUPTA: That's an anecdote from your book. You talked about following a tomato truck and the tomatoes are falling of the truck, and what did you see happen?

ESTABROOK: It was in southwestern Florida several years ago. I was going along the interstate, behind this truck, loaded -- it was an open-top truck, loaded with -- mounded over with green tomatoes. And it hit a bump. And three or four of them flew of the truck and narrowly missed my windshield so I pulled over and slowed down, and they missed my windshield. They hit the interstate highway, they bounced --

GUPTA: Tomatoes.

ESTABROOK: Tomatoes. They bounced, and they rolled off into the shoulder. And they didn't splatter. I couldn't see that they cracked.

GUPTA: So I mean, you -- these are literally -- I mean, they're nearly indestructible tomatoes.

ESTABROOK: Yes, they're lots of fun.

GUPTA: It's not a way a tomato. I mean, is that what farmers want, indestructible tomatoes?

ESTABROOK: Well, that's what big growers want. This is what big supermarkets want. This is what fast food restaurants want.

It's not what you and I want. It's not what the consumer wants. These tomatoes are -- the factory tomatoes, supermarket tomato, is primarily grown for yield, lots of tomatoes.

One farmer said to me, I don't get paid a cent for taste, I get paid per pound. So this is what they have been growing these things for, breeding for the last several decades. And what it results in is --

GUPTA: And when you look inside --

ESTABROOK: Yes, here's a local farm-grown tomato right here. And here's one from the supermarket. And you see how this is -- see all that tough tissue there? That really lacks flavor. It's very bland.

The good stuff, the acids, which give tomatoes --

GUPTA: The mushy stuff.

ESTABROOK: -- is in this -- the mushy area. So you're getting, you know, lots of support. But no -- you know, no good flavor. Here's the farm tomatoes, it's just been sliced and already falling apart with the juice coming out of it, and that's where your flavor is.

GUPTA: Fascinating. I will never look at a tomato the same way again.

ESTABROOK: Well, no, they're wonderful things to have when they're ripe and when they're from -- I say the best tomato is one that grows closest to your kitchen counter.

GUPTA: I love that. Thanks so much.

ESTABROOK: Great. Thanks you.

GUPTA: Good luck with the book.

A lot of us do want to eat better and get in better shape, as well. Here's your chance now. The 2012 CNN fit nation challenge. You know, we've already gotten some pretty great submissions, but we're looking for you.

You might be tired of making excuses about your health. That sound familiar? Well, if so, you can log on to and submit a two to three-minute video about why you should be part of next year's six-pack.

If you're selected, we'll give you everything you need to compete in the Malibu triathlon, along with six months of training, including three all-expense-paid training trips.

GUPTA: We're going to all race together. We're going to do this together. It's going to be in Malibu next September. Think about it.

But still ahead for us now, this morning -- is this the future of friendship? I'm going to introduce you to a robot whose name is David.


GUPTA: Time now for a sneak peek at this weekend's "NEXT LIST." I'm going to be profiling a social roboticist, someone who makes robots that can interact with people in a human way.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll down, and then roll up on the count of five. One, two, three, four, five. Good.

HEATHER KNIGHT, SOCIAL ROBOTICIST: People have spent entire careers, like lifetimes, thinking about what gesture means. So as we explore this realm of social robotics for the first time, I believe that collaborating with performers and with different artists can actually help us boot strap the development and the creation of these technologies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And arms down. There you go. Excellent.


GUPTA: And you can see much more with Heather Knight who you saw there and her robot side kick, Data. It's Sunday, "THE NEXT LIST," 2:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. Thanks for being with us. Stay connected with me throughout the week on my Lifestream at And also, join the conversation that's ongoing on Twitter, @SanjayGuptaCNN. Hope to see you back here next week. And time now, though, to get a check of your top stories in "THE CNN NEWSROOM."