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.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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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.