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September 8th, 2009
06:51 PM ET

Surgeon and journalist

By Tim Langmaid
CNN Medical Managing Editor

I work with Dr. Sanjay Gupta in CNN’s Medical unit. Sanjay is a practicing neurosurgeon who spends much of his time away from CNN working at a hospital in Atlanta. Since he joined CNN in 2001, Sanjay’s two worlds (brain surgeon and journalist) have collided (so to speak) on a few occasions.

Covering the war in Iraq in 2003, Sanjay was called upon while reporting on the U.S. Navy’s Devil Docs– the military's nickname for a group of physicians who provide battlefield medical care. A 23-year-old Marine hit with a sniper’s bullet was left with massive head trauma. Jesus Vidana was declared dead… twice. But he had a faint pulse when he reached Sanjay, the surgeon. Vidana survived the surgery… and the war.

Sanjay was still in the war zone in Iraq when he was asked about the surgery. His response offers some insight into Sanjay the doctor, the journalist and the human being. “They don't have a neurosurgeon here,” Sanjay said. “They knew that I performed these sorts of operations so they asked me to actually perform that particular operation- which I felt medically and morally was the right thing to do.” A couple of years later, Sanjay wrote: “As a neurosurgeon, I was asked to step back from my journalist's role to look at his gunshot wound to the head. Shortly thereafter, I was removing a bullet from his brain. Within an hour, Jesus had been treated, operated on and was recovering just outside the operating room.”

Sanjay is currently on assignment in Afghanistan. He is covering U.S. military doctors in the battle zone and reporting for Anderson Cooper 360. This week he has been called upon again as a surgeon, this time for an operation that required four surgeons when only three were available. Sanjay is profiling one of the other surgeons tonight on AC360. You should watch—you’ll find that Sanjay has more in common with this doctor than just medicine.

It is controversial whenever a journalist becomes part of the story he or she is covering. I have been a journalist for more than 20 years and I fully understand that. But I also think there are exceptions—and Sanjay is one of those exceptions. I would argue that if Sanjay did not pick up a scalpel in the field when it is requested (and ABSOLUTELY necessary), it would be even more controversial.

Yes, I think Sanjay is an exception. And I think Sanjay’s few battle field patients (and their families) would agree.

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soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. 60driver

    As a soldier, I greatly appreciate the work of Dr. Gupta. I understand why reporters don't get involved, but I don't always agree with their desire to place their professionalism over human compassion and decency. In this case, I do not believe that one can call himself a doctor and then sit back and watch someone die who they could save. Dr. Gupta is an example for everyone to follow that it is possible to be professional and care for the subject matter.

    September 8, 2009 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. TJ

    I was literally moved by the piece Dr. Gupta did on the medical staff of our armed forces in Afghanistan. The fact that that Maj. own child was born while he was over sea's is something many of our armed forces experience. I thank all of them, and Dr. Gupta, for their continuing support of our country during this hard, hard time. I wish all of them a safe return and I thank them, from the bottom of mine and my families hearts for everything they, and their own families are doing.

    Keep up the great work AC and Team.

    September 8, 2009 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Laurie Hays Hunt

    Dr. Gupta,

    Thank you for your video on "Saving Lives in Afghanistan". I am Dr. Hays' sister and it was a blessing to see him. We talk, well Email, weekly. But when you see him in action it brought peace to my family to see how well he is doing. The selfless dedication he brings to the NAVY and to the United States makes our hearts swell. Though it was just a few minutes it is priceless.

    May God watch over you in your reporting adventures. Please keep doing what your doing, it makes a huge differece to those of us back home.

    Warm Regards,

    Laurie Hays Hunt

    September 9, 2009 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Maralyn

    If he is needed and he can utilize his skills to try to save a life...why not? It is exceptional journalism and a super nobel gesture.
    MP/Miami

    September 9, 2009 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Rita Nalette

    Dr. Sanjay Gupta is one more example of CNN's outstanding professionalism not only as a news leader but also in humanitarianism issues and ethics.

    You all are what keeps the free world free. thank you very much.

    I'm not qualified to comment on Dr. Gupta except as a fellow human and all i can say is that he is one amazing person.

    September 9, 2009 at 01:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RF

    This is why I admire Dr. Gupta a great deal. He isn't a journalist, he's a doctor who covers certain parts of the news. I'll keep watching as long as that's true!

    September 9, 2009 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dawn In Atlanta

    Dear Dr Gupta:
    I just wanted to say thank you for all the stories you cover and this one in particular.

    With the war in Afghanistan going on for some time now, it is easy to lose interest in the sacrifices of our brave soldiers.

    Your recent coverage keeps the attention where it should be and sheds light on the sacrifices they make daily.

    We as viewers and Americans appreciate your coverage.

    Thank you,
    Dawn In Atlanta

    September 9, 2009 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Andrew Lubin

    There's no controversy here; Sanjay Gupta is a human being first and foremost – you would expect him to let a Marine die out of "journalistic integrity"? Thanks Dr G, for what you do. S/F

    September 9, 2009 at 08:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Michael D. Houst

    While there are rare occasions where I may disagree with a stand that Dr. Sanjay Gupta may be supporting, most of the time he's spot on with his commentaries.

    The reason usually given for journalist's non-participation in events is to provide an objective record. The problem is that as human beings in the world, it is not possible to not be a participant. The very act of observing changes the situation being observed. Add to that that the words "objective" and "objectionable" have the same root; and you can see the conflict.

    Being objective, non-biased, and non-participative may enable journalists to get places and see things that they would not ordinarily have access to. However, failure to act to releive suffering, to make a positive difference, is to fail to measure up to what it means to be a decent human being. Dr Gupta passes that test with flying colors.

    September 9, 2009 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Gloria McHale

    I cannot begin to say enough about Dr. Gupta.I have been a nurse for 35 years. I worked in a Neuro intensive care unit for 30 years. I live in Pensacola Florida.If I get to Atlanta I would be honored to meet him just to shake his hand. Gloria McHale

    September 9, 2009 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. T. Hayes

    As a Physician I commend Dr. Guptas actions and respect him enormously. Most practicing physicians will render assistance whether asked or not. Dr. Gupta has more than average skills and puts himself in harms way often. He is a model to all of us who do the right thing with the patient in mind.
    The combat Physicians must breath a sigh of relief just knowing a Neurosurgeon is in theatre.
    A fine example of "going above and beyond"!

    September 9, 2009 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Flashpoint

    Thank you for sharing some stories of our unsung HERO'S. We need to remember them and all their families in our prayer's daily. A big thank you to your own family for letting you bring us these stories so far from home.
    Malek is up a walking how wonderful to see.God Bless him. I pray he recovers fully.

    September 9, 2009 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. TheSwabbie

    Reading the story about that wounded Marine (Jesus Vidana) really got to me. He would in his grave if it were not for Dr. Gupta. I know, its one life – but Jesus Vidana is probably grateful to God that it was HIS life that was spared. Thank you Dr. Gupta for stepping up and taking the situation in hand to save a brother Marine. God see's the things done and will reward you openly. God Bless for helping.

    September 10, 2009 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.