Past Event On February 23, 2019

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Battle Scars: Medicine in Times of War and Disaster

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

“When I go on the ground, experience these things first-hand…I learn so much more than I otherwise would.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Battle Scars: Medicine In Times Of War And Disaster

Program Date: February 23, 2019

“It was the first time I remember seeing the parallels between medicine and media,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta recalled to the audience at The Richmond Forum about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Having just started his job as a reporter for CNN, Gupta went to New York City to cover the aftermath of the attacks. For weeks afterward, families would come up to him at the CNN truck to show pictures and tell stories of lost loved ones and ask him to share them on air, in hopes that those family members and friends were only missing.

It was the optimism of those families, he said, that reminded him of the hope that he tries to maintain in his medical career. The connection Gupta sees between his two fields—medicine and media—is having to strike a balance of hope, optimism, and realism in times of crisis.

Gupta went on to tell the Richmond Forum audience about some of the places and people he has visited around the world through his reporting: Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, Guinea during the Ebola outbreak, Iraq embedded with the U.S. Army “Devil Docs,” and Japan after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

“People often ask me which places are the most memorable. Let me tell you something: you don’t forget any of them.”

– Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on deciding to go into dangerous places

He has seen people at their best and at their worst, but health and humanity are the common denominators.

“People often ask me which places are the most memorable. Let me tell you something: you don’t forget any of them,” Gupta said. “I’ve made the deepest connections with people in these places.”

The deep connections he makes with people and the empathy he feels for them make it important for him to put being human first, beyond any responsibilities as a reporter. As one of the first to land in a country after disaster strikes, like post-earthquake Haiti, Gupta is frequently called upon to help the injured.

He said he feels an obligation or responsibility to do what he can to help within his abilities; to put the microphone and camera down and lend a hand.

He said he feels an obligation or responsibility to do what he can to help within his abilities; to put the microphone and camera down and lend a hand.

“Putting on the press badge does not remove your humanity,” he explained. “You still want to help people.”

Explore the program book.

One such scenario was in Haiti when the U.S. Navy called him aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson to perform brain surgery on a 12-year-old girl who had a piece of shrapnel embedded into her skull during the quake.

Upon examining her, Gupta could not clearly identify where the metal was because of other head injuries the girl had sustained. The ship had only a side-view X-ray machine available to him, so he made a judgment call.

He observed that the right side of her body was stronger than the left when he squeezed her hands, so the shrapnel was most likely on the right side, since that’s the side that controls the left side of the body.

That operation was a medical success, Gupta said, but he kept being reminded of the situation that the girl would be released into from surgery: her mother had died, her father was injured, and she would be living in destruction while the country recovered from the disaster.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the role of faith in healing

“You have to often ask yourself,” he went on, “When you’re covering these stories, when you’re talking about these things: what exactly are we hoping to achieve here? What exactly do we think the prospects are going to be for the people that we cover and the stories that we tell about them?”

In that particular case, Gupta elaborated after a follow-up question was posed by an audience member, the girl, named Kimberly, was graduating high school last he heard and she and her family are doing well—all things considered.

Outside of a few cases where he has been able to check up on people he has assisted, the toll of those unknown stories weighs on the journalist and doctor, who is also a husband and the father of three girls.

It gives him an appreciation for his family, whom he credits as being particularly supportive of his work, especially his wife.

While on a vacation that was meant to be a make-up for the trip he missed the year before because of a reporting job, a devastating tsunami hit Japan and reports of a potential nuclear meltdown came across the wire.

At first, Gupta felt guilty when he began to talk to his wife about leaving for Japan, but she had already seen the story on the news—and packed his bag for him. That sort of support, he continued, helps to keep him energized through difficult days and nights of reporting.

Gupta is driven to tell important stories. He even admitted to the audience that he almost didn’t make it to the presentation that evening because of the ongoing protests and violence in Haiti, which nearly called him away.

Not all of those important stories are as far afield as Haiti, Guinea, Iraq, or Japan. Others are right here in the United States.

After his presentation, Forum-goers posed questions ranging from vaccinations to researching psychedelics for the treatment of depression and PTSD, to government success and failure in healthcare, to the next generation of medical technologies, like CRISPR.

In particular, participants wanted to know the steps to take to improve their health tomorrow, and what things could be done to reduce healthcare costs.

Gupta’s answer to the first? Three words: “Cut out sugar.”

And the second? Work to reduce cases of preventable illnesses through healthy living, and make healthy food more affordable and available to the general public.

At the end of the evening, one last audience question was posed: “What question do you wish we had asked you?” Gupta took this time to talk about his work/life balance.

Today, he tries to include his family in his journey of medicine and media by talking to them about the places he’s been and the stories he’s covering. On Saturday night in Richmond, he brought The Forum along for the ride.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on dealing with moments where he couldn’t help people

“What a delight! Dr. Gupta was engaging, funny, self-disclosing and captured all my attention. From the start of his presentation, one could sense the depth and intelligence of this man.”

– Subscriber Comment

About Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN whose medical training and public health policy experience inform his award-winning reporting. He covers war zones and natural disasters around the world, and reports on a range of medical and scientific topics: the opioid crisis, healthcare reform, medical marijuana, and more.

Since joining CNN in the summer of 2001, Dr. Gupta has covered the most important health stories in the United States and around the world. He reported from New York following the attacks of September 11, 2001. He has embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, and performed life-saving brain surgery five times during his coverage of battlefield operations and medicine.

His distinguished reporting on major natural disasters, including the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, contributed to CNN’s Peabody and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award-winning reporting of those disasters. Coverage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti for Anderson Cooper 360° earned him two Emmy Awards. His investigation into Charity Hospital in New Orleans after Katrina earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Feature Story. Gupta received another duPont-Columbia Award for his four-part documentary series about medical marijuana, WEED.

Other influential work includes his reporting on the botched website rollout, the Ebola outbreak, the earthquake in Nepal, the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Flint water crisis, and the breakdown in the medical infrastructure of post-hurricane Puerto Rico.

Gupta’s passion for inspiring Americans to lead healthier, more active lives led him to launch “Fit Nation,” CNN’s multi-platform lifestyle initiative on his weekly series, Sanjay Gupta, M.D., which has received four Daytime Emmy Award nominations. He is also the host of Vital Signs, CNN’s series on health stories from around the globe.

Gupta also contributes to 60 Minutes and serves as an executive producer for HBO’s documentary unit. He is the author of three New York Times bestselling books: Chasing LifeCheating Death, and a novel, Monday Mornings.

He is a member of the staff and faculty at the Emory University School of Medicine and Associate Chief of Neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital. In 2018, Gupta launched the Gupta Family Initiative in Health Communications at the University of Michigan.

Gupta holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor and an M.D. from its medical school.

He resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Rebecca Olson, and their three daughters.

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