American Morning

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June 3rd, 2009
10:01 AM ET

Inside Dr. Gupta's operating room

By Danielle Dellorto, CNN Medical Producer

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I waited outside the employee parking lot of Grady Memorial Hospital Monday morning. My assignment for the day? Produce a story on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s life outside of CNN – his life as a trauma neurosurgeon. For the past three years I’ve been producing stories for him – but this time he was my story.

He greeted our crew a little before 5 a.m. with a familiar smile and diet soda in hand. Wasting no time with chit-chat, he scurried into the hospital, quickly changed into scrubs, then was off to his “home away from home”, O.R. 14. He had three cases scheduled by the time we arrived – a brain surgery and two spinal fusions.

First up – clipping a ruptured brain aneurysm.

My heart raced as I stood on pins and needles watching a critical part of the operation, during which the patient had an interoperative brain bleed. “I always like to tell people we spend 99% of our preparation on the 1% of things that happen.” Sanjay’s team didn’t flinch. They knew she’d be losing a liter of blood in just seconds and to prevent disaster, they raced to stop the bleed. Mission accomplished. It was a scary 90 seconds for a bystander like myself watching it all go down, so what really struck me was how calm and focused his team was the entire time.

“When you have an aneurysm rupture like that and you are losing a liter of blood over several seconds, it makes any TV live shot you've ever done look not that scary. I know if I don’t get that thing stopped within a couple of minutes, the patient won’t survive,” he explained.

No doubt their neuro team is a well-oiled machine. It was especially fascinating to watch Dr. Gupta interact with his residents. “Many of my residents have never done cases like this so I get to show them for the first time how to do these procedures, which is pretty interesting for me and for them,” Gupta said. Between critical moments in the O.R. they chatted like comrades. Everything from rock concerts, to their love lives to real estate – joking around like old friends.

One thing that is “very important” during surgery: the music. I watched as they took turns flipping through the iPod. Dr. Gupta gave me his ultimate playlist for brain surgery: open with Gypsy Kings or Rise by Eddie Vedder and close the surgery with Coldplay’s Viva La Vida or Mr. Brightside. Solid picks, Doc!

The morning flew by fast. By 10am, Dr. Gupta and his team had already saved one life. By 10pm, that tally was up to three. Overall, it was incredibly exciting to not only see a whole other side of Sanjay on the job, but also see inside the human brain!

Want to see more in the weeks to come? Follow Sanjay on Twitter @sanjayguptacnn. He posts cool pics each week from the operating room!

Filed under: Dr. Gupta's Mailbag • Health
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. marlene treger

    what is Dr. GS's criteria for evaluating when a spinal fusion for L4-5 needs to be done. Stenosis has not responded to several spinal injections or PT.
    Neurosurg. would be done at a Mayo Clinic.
    I am 67, have degenerative disk disease as well.
    Thank you.

    October 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm |
  2. Bill Bartmann

    This site rocks!

    September 1, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  3. AJ

    Sue, I'm not yet a medical student myself, however I am pre-med and a graduate student. If your son can get into a good school in either Canada or the US (such as McGill) for undergrad he should be fine. Many fine students come from state schools with pre-med work and end up at the finest medical schools in North America i.e WashU, Hopkins, Harvard etc....BME is a phenomenal undergrad major and I actually am encouraging my younger brother to go that route for his pre-med career. (BME is a tough major, however if your son has a good foundation in math, and an anlaytical mind he should be fine) That said another famous American NS Dr.Ben Carson was a psych major at Yale, ergo BME is no the be all, end all for pre-meds....

    BEST OF LUCK.... most succinct advice for any pre-med is WORK HARD, and never ever give up.

    July 3, 2009 at 2:15 am |
  4. Rhonda Cordell

    Just wanted to post a comment to say you may not classify a spinal fusion as a life saved but I know first hand it is. At the very least...quality of life saved. Dr Gupta and his team "saved" my daughter in April. If not for them she would be at least paralized from the neck down. She had C6 fracture with the chipped bone 1mm from spinal cord. She will have a full recovery, thanks to Dr Gupta and his team. They are amazing, my heros and angels straight from heaven!

    June 18, 2009 at 8:50 pm |
  5. Sohan Sangha

    I always enjoy watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta talking about medical science on CNN for few reasons:
    1. He is my Native son from India.
    2. He graduated from Edley Steven High School, Livonia MI where I had my two daughters Rajdeep and Sandeep Sangha graduate.
    3. I think his father retired from Ford and so I did in 2007.
    4. Most of all he is very intellegent, hard working level headed human being.

    I wish him and his family the best in life.

    June 18, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  6. Emeka Okwuje MD

    Nice story and nice cases Sanjay. However whoever wrote the story needs to clarify how a spinal fusion tallies as a "life saved"??

    As an Anesthesiologist I'm curious – were these trauma cases as well? Intraoperative spinal shock truly can be a life threatening occurrence. Was that the case?

    I too was surprised about the Aspartame feeder. I *used* to be very laissez-faire about aspartame use (failed FDA auth 5x!!) until I had a small kidney tumor found (and removed thank god).

    No more aspartame for me! All natural now.

    Sanjay, ditch the poison, it's so 80s!

    June 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Yvonne Miles

    Dr. Gupta;

    Thank you for reporting on late term abortions (And all abortions are pretty cruel) on last night's show. I truly believe many american's don't know the whole truth. I guess in this case, Ignorance is a bliss. You're right when you said the other procedures would be too gruesome to mention.
    Just wanted to thank you! Have a wonderful Saturday!


    June 6, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  8. jeffrey gibson

    I am a CV surgeon and people always say what the other newscasters said to you – "kind of like being a pilot". Yes, with one important difference – if we screw up we don't die – the pilot does...
    Memphis TN

    June 6, 2009 at 12:56 am |
  9. Chuck

    I was really surprised by the diet soda as well...Aspartame at best is simply not good for the human brain...and at worst there is some evidence linking it to brain tumors. I'd love to hear what Dr. Gupta thinks about Aspartame...

    June 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  10. momcarolrn

    Is the diet coke taken that early @ 5 AM prior to surgery his way of staying alert? Is that his caffeine? Just curious. Very surprised actually.

    I still love him, though.

    June 4, 2009 at 9:37 am |
  11. Tori

    Saw this morning on AM, very cool to see it from that perspective. So calm and composed.
    I'm wondering what the prognosis is for the young man who had the diving accident.
    Also, I noted that SG was carrying what looked like a can. So, he drinks Coke 0?! Kind of surprised.....

    Love the tweets..

    June 3, 2009 at 3:46 pm |
  12. Sue Stinson

    Hello Dr. Gupta
    I have a teenage son who is interested in being a doctor. He is 16 and will be graduating from a Canadian High school next year. He has good marks (93% average, 2100 SAT), has had leadership roles on his sports teams and school council. However, he was rejected by Taft Prep school in CT. Now he is unsure if he would ever make it into medicine.

    He wants to do BioMed Eng. undergrad program but is now not confident about getting into medicine in the future.

    In your expert opinion and based on your experience, what else must he do to make his chances better for getting into college (BioMed) and then medicine?


    June 3, 2009 at 2:05 pm |