CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Doctor First: ‘We Offer Enough Care to Get to the Next Level of Care’

By Chris Ariens 

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta, once in line to be the nation’s Surgeon General, is instead on the front lines of helping the wounded in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Gupta, a neurosurgeon by trade, was one of the first CNN personnel on the ground in Haiti, and as we found out in an interview this afternoon, he’s a doctor first.

This was best evidenced yesterday when he treated a 15-day old baby suffering from a head wound, whose mother died in the earthquake; a clip that was played several times on CNN Thursday:

TVNewser: First, how’s the baby today?

Gupta: As you can imagine, it’s tough to get information. But we have some information. From the uncle, we hear the baby is doing well, overall.

TVNewser: So in situations like this, you’re a doctor first?

Gupta: No question about it. In this situation, it was a neurological issue. And there’s just no capabilities right now for treatment.

TVNewser: And today, more of the same, treating the wounded?

Gupta: Yes. Lots and lots of wounded. We went through our first aid kits immediately. There is a terrible shortage of supplies — gauze bandages, pressure bandages, trauma kits. We’re trying to help as many people as we can.

We spent all day at a hospital, one of the only ones still standing. They hear about my experience as a neurosurgeon and we’re seeing lots of skull fractures. And there are no cat scanners so we offer enough care to get to the next level of care.

TVNewser: And how you and your crew getting by — eating, sleeping?

Gupta: CNN has set up a homebase where most of CNN is staying. It seems somewhat sound, but there have been a lot of aftershocks, a big one at 5am. But it has become our homebase. CNN has been good about bringing in water and granola bars that kind of thing.

TVNewser: And this isn’t the first time you’ve gone to cover a story, and have gone into medical mode? (Pakistan earthquake, Iraq war, Southeast Asia tsunami).

Gupta: It’s happened a few times. These types of stories that I cover can go hand-in-hand with a lack of personnel and a lack of specialized medicine. But today is even different than yesterday. Personnel are coming in, you have the airport which is open — bottle-necking in fact with planes hovering, bringing in supplies.

TVNewser: What’s the biggest need right now?

Gupta: The personnel are getting to the field hospitals now, but the problem is supplies. They come by much larger vehicles. Orthopedic injuries are most common and severe head injuries are still coming in.

TVNewser: How long will you be down there?

Gupta: I don’t know. I’d like to be able to follow the story along for a while and show the impact of the aid that’s coming in. Focus on the medical care. I have good relationships with these people. I keep seeing the same faces from Pakistan and the tsunami. There are really two things happening here: they’ve lost the infrastructure and have exponentially increased the demand.

TVNewser: Give us a sense of how long it will take for Haiti to recover.

Gupta: Normal for Haiti is not good enough and it’s going to take years to return to normal.

• Gupta will anchor live versions of his weekend show “Sanjay Gupta, MD” tomorrow and Sunday morning at 7:30amET with the latest on the medical situation and senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen will report on new orphans being dropped off at the U.N. compound.