Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a medical correspondent for the health news unit at CNN, and in 2003 spent time in Kuwait, reporting on various medical aspects of the escalating tension between the U.S. and Iraq. During the Iraq War, Gupta reported as a guest of the U.S. Navy's medical unit, the "Devil Docs," providing exclusive reports from points along the unit's travel to the outskirts of Baghdad. He also helped deliver emergency medical care near the frontlines from a mobile field hospital.
In addition to his work for CNN, Gupta is a member of the staff and faculty of the Department of Neurosurgery at Emory University's School of Medicine and performs surgery weekly at Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
Before joining CNN, Gupta was a neurosurgeon at the University of Tennessee's Semmes-Murphy Clinic, and before that, the University of Michigan Medical Center. He became a partner of the Great Lakes Brain and Spine Institute in 2000 and in 1997 was a White House Fellow in the office of the first lady" one of 15 fellows appointed.
Gupta received his undergraduate degree in biomedical science from LSA in 1990 and a doctorate of medicine from the UM Medical School in 1993.
LSA: Why were you chosen to go to Iraq? SG: (laughs) I'm not sure "chosen" is the right word. As CNN's in-house expert on anthrax after 9/11 and later, on biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, I went to Kuwait in February 2002. Soon, I met these doctors called the "Devil Docs." Later, when CNN planned to embed reporters with front line troops, I was asked to go.
LSA: Did you have reservations? SG: Sure. It means being with the troops for weeks, months at a time. And, being on the front lines reporting on biological and chemical weapons means there's a good chance you'll be exposed yourself.
LSA: You ended up both reporting on and participating in the news, correct? SG: There were concerns about objectivity. That I went at the request of the military made the relationships even closer. But, in no way do I think it affected my objectivity. I think it was the right thing to do. I believe journalists have an obligation to put saving lives ahead of getting the story or taking pictures, and I like to believe anyone presented with this situation would act the same way.
LSA: Tell me about trying to do surgery during a war. SG: It was 120 degrees, with sand blowing everywhere. No bright, shiny operating rooms, only tents in the middle of the desert. We often had to wear protective suits, sometimes including Kevlar, depending on the risk. It was physically very challenging. What struck me most is that people get killed and injured and all these terrible things are funneled straight to these units. As a result, the horrors of war become very apparent.
LSA: You ended up not only operating on American soldiers, but on injured Iraqis as well, correct?SG: That's right. I ended up operating on five patients. Three of them Iraqis and two Marines. One child and four adults.
LSA: So, you operated on American wounded as well as people from the enemy side. SG: The Geneva Convention dictates that battlefield medical capabilities be used to treat both sides. For the Devil Docs, 80 percent of those treated were Iraqi, and only 20 percent Coalition. It wasn't really an issue because we always knew the Coalition would win. Likewise, there was never a scarcity of resources. Had this changed, I think it would have been more challenging. But in this situation, they never had to choose.
LSA: Was there a particular time you were most afraid? SG: There were a few. I remember being in a convoy traveling through the desert at night, without lights, and suddenly hearing intense gunfire. We peeked out and saw the convoy in front of us in a huge firefight. Suddenly, the Marines around us realized we were vulnerable. I heard them locking-loading, then turning safeties off. When the safeties go off you think someone's going to get shot. We had limited radio contact and air support because of a bad sandstorm. Suddenly, two Apache helicopter must have been going 170 miles an hour started firing. It was so loud, and not far above our heads. It was wild to know so many people died. They were people trying to kill us, but still it was intense.
LSA: And these are sometimes 18- and 19-year-old kids. SG: Sure, there was some bravado, some machismo, but also a lot of thoughtfulness. One of the guys said that he never felt more alive than when a bullet whizzed past his head and didn't hit him. Somehow, in order to feel most alive, he had to cheat death, and these guys were doing it all the time.
LSA: Brings a certain kind of clarity. SG: That's really interesting. When I was 18, 19 years old, I was thinking about getting a job at the local ice cream shop for the summer. But these young Marines are unbelievably focused. When your life is threatened, you have incredible clarity of vision.
LSA: In retrospect, what are your thoughts about your experience and about the Iraq War? SG: Once home, the images just come flooding back the terrible images I cannot get out of my head. I'm in the process of writing a book right now, and that helps me get through some of that. I wasn't a strong believer in war before. I don't think anybody really is. But I think seeing so many innocent people, especially children, being grotesquely injured or killed. It seems even less right that war's the answer.
LSA: Obviously, you're having an outstanding career. Any thoughts about your experience at Michigan and how it helped prepare you? SG: Ann Arbor is one of the greatest towns in the world. I think Michigan is the quintessential, great Midwestern school, and I think students are capable of getting any kind of education one might want there. I'm confident that everything I'm doing today is somehow linked to what I did at Michigan.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta performed emergency surgery on a two-year-old Iraqi child Thursday. Video
CNN war correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta suddenly became part of a battlefield first. The University of Michigan trained neurosurgeon performed emergency brain surgery on a badly wounded Iraqi boy. Gupta was raised in Livonia and Novi.
Dr. Gupta is now traveling through Iraq with a group of naval doctors who are pioneering faster ways to treat life threatening injuries on the battlefield. He is a fascinating individual and he is from Michigan.
He is only 33-years-old, but already a brilliant neurosurgeon on staff at Emory University in Atlanta. But at the same time, Dr. Gupta is also fast becoming a rising star covering front line medical issues on the battlefields of Iraq.
"He always want to do everything," said Rani Gupta, Dr. Gupta's mother.
It comes has no surprise to Rani and Subhash Gupta. Both engineers working for Ford Motor Company, and Sanjay's parents.
"I think he was a 15, 16-year-old when Novi news interviewed him one time. And his first thing came out of his mouth was life should be lived to the fullest, and he's really doing it."
A guy with a never-say-die attitude, Sanjay's parents say ever since his days at Novi High School playing on the varsity tennis team, he has wanted it all. He graduated valedictorian at Novi High and within a few years, was working at the White House writing speeches for Hillary Clinton.
"Well, he's very committed, hard worker, and basically always very focused. And makes up his mind and goes after it," Subhash said.
Talk about a talented family, Sanjay's mother was also the first female engineer hired by Ford Motor Company, and the entire family has visited the White House.
On Thursday, Dr. Gupta won worldwide recognition for performing emergency surgery on a two-year-old Iraqi child who had been shot in the head at a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad.
"As a kind human being and a physician, he felt it was his duty and moral obligation to save other human beings life. I'm very proud of him, very, very. I think he's doing the right thing," Rani said.
Dr. Gupta was very close to both Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. In fact, he wrote a very important passage to one of Bill Clinton's most famous State of the Union speeches. Dr. Gupta is in regular contact with his parents in Novi. They are obviously very proud of him.