Vital Signs: Heroes
PREMIERS MAY 4TH, 2020 AT 6PM
It is the time of year for reflection and appreciation, so Vital Signs is highlighting some true heroes in the medical field. In the central African nation of Cameroon, there are only two doctors for every 10,000 people, and for the lucky few able to get healthcare, many can’t actually afford it.
So one doctor decided to make a change, using his own free time on the weekends providing medical care and life-saving operations in the most remote parts of his country — all for free. Plus, meet an extraordinary group of volunteers in Turkey who are heroes in every sense of the word.
Vital Sings: Heroes
Premieres: May, 2020.
00:22 Sanjay Gupta:
It’s the time of year for reflection and appreciation. So, today, we’re going to highlight some of the true heroes in the medical field. This is Vital Signs. I’m Dr Sanjay Gupta.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
To be a hero means so many different things, but I think selflessness is a big part of it. In the Central African nation of Cameroon there are only two doctors for every 10,000 people, and for the lucky few able to get healthcare, many can’t even afford to pay for it.
So one doctor decided to make a change, using his own free time on the weekends to provide medical care and life-saving operations in the most remote parts of Cameroon. And all of it, for free.
01:04 It’s early morning in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Before the sun is up the team is hard at work. They’re loading medical supplies in the bins and tying them down to trucks. Overseeing all this is Dr Georges Bwelle.
His team of volunteers pile into a van and then hit the road. It’s a Friday and after a long work week, this group is ready for the full weekend ahead of them, providing medical care for free.
Dr GEORGES BWELLE, Founder, ASCOVIME
01:35 Georges Bwelle:
When I was born, on one of my aunts came to the hospital and said ‘this guy going to be a doctor’. When I was born, two days after. ‘This guy going to be a medical doctor’.
And they started talking about it, the family but, in my mind I was sure that it wasn’t possible because in Cameroon we have only one medical school.
I was born in a poor family, but my parents did all their best to send me to school.
02:04 Sanjay Gupta:
Georges saw first-hand what can happen when there’s no access to medical care. His father was injured in a car accident, causing bleeding in his brain. He was unable to receive proper care and he passed away in 2002.
02:17 Georges Bwelle:
I was the one who would bring my father sometimes in the hospital and I went with him, I saw a lot of people waiting. That’s why… my father told me, ‘you see
how people suffer to see a doctor and you dream to be a doctor? Please, if you graduate to be a doctor, help people.’
02:37 Sanjay Gupta:
According to the World Health Organisation, Cameroon has only one doctor for every 5,000 people . For comparison, the United States has one doctor for every 413 people and even if someone can access healthcare in Cameroon, they likely can’t afford it.
02:54 Georges Bwelle:
It is difficult for people to pay their care due to the level of the poverty in our country, so normally, in our system, the patient pays for all, so you need to have your money in your pocket to have a treatment.
So you have a lot of patients who stay at home with their illness, and they cannot pay. That’s why we created this association – to take care of this type of people who don’t have means to go to the hospital and who stay in the village.
03:27 Sanjay Gupta:
In 2008, George decided to do something about it. He started a non-profit along with his regular job as a surgeon at Yaoundé’s Central Hospital. And every Friday the team loads up their supplies and travels to rural villages to find those most in need.
03:43 Georges Bwelle:
We visit each village twice. First, for the healthcare between February to August, and between October and November we visit the same village for a school trip, to distribute school supplies to kids and to teachers.
04:04 Sanjay Gupta:
At the village, they receive a hero’s welcome. Free medical care? That is truly cause for celebration here.
04:12 Georges Bwelle:
People in the village are very very very very happy. They bring out all their drums, they are beating their drums to say, ‘thanks for coming’ and they prepare food for us.
04:27 Sanjay Gupta:
The next morning, it’s time to get to work.
04:30 Georges Bwelle:
And then, Saturday morning we start doing health campaign. It’s a very very mobile hospital. We have ophthalmologist, dentist, paediatrician, cardiologist. We have all those people we can arrange for them. We set up the pharmacy where people are going to receive their drug.
04:49 Sanjay Gupta:
Georges and his team begin consultations with hundreds of patients, on average, they see 500 people every trip. Some travel as far as 60 km – nearly 40 miles – often on foot.
05:02 Katie O’Malley is a volunteer with George’s group. She’s a medical student in the United States.
KATIE O’MALLEY, Medical student and volunteer
05:08 Katie O’Malley:
Without a doubt, Dr Bwelle’s work here changes people’s lives. A lot of hernias are repaired here, and if the hernia had not been repaired they would not be able to work in the field, which is their income.
And if they can’t work in the fields, they can’t get money for their children’s education, and the education of their children has been stopped and it’s a circle of poverty then, and so he’s trying to break that.
05:33 Sanjay Gupta:
The team has to be ready to treat a wide range of diseases. Everything from malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition, to diabetes and parasites. Others might need eyeglasses or crutches.
And then there are the operations. After a day of consultations, George and his team prep for the operations they will perform non-stop throughout the night.
05:57 They will perform as many as 40 operations in one night in the makeshift operating room they’ve set up, powered by the generator they brought with them.
06:06 Georges Bwelle:
Friday afternoon we leave, Saturday we start in the morning, and in the morning we start by doing consultations and in afternoon we have a list of patients that we are going to operate, so around six or seven we start doing the operation till Sunday morning.
06:24 And people of the village, to contribute, they are beating drums all the night to make us be awake and continue our work.
06:36 Sanjay Gupta:
Since George started this work he says he and his team have provided free medical care to more than 125,000 people in his native Cameroon.
Presenter: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour to present CNN Hero Award to Dr Georges Bwelle.
He was even a finalist for the 2013 CNN Heroes, which honours individuals from around the world for extraordinary contributions to their communities.
07:05 Georges rarely gets a day off, but he says this is exactly why he became a doctor.
07:09 Katie O’Malley:
I think Dr Bwelle… I’m not sure when he sleeps. He is always either at the hospital, trying to make money for the organisation so he can go on these campaigns. I think that he is relentless in his work. He just wants… he wants the best for his people here in Cameroon and his desire to make sure that everyone has health care is lifelong, for him.
07:30 Georges Bwelle:
I like to see people happy, to make people laugh. It’s just to make people laugh, to reduce the pain. That’s why I am doing this. I’m doing this job only to reduce the pain, to reduce the suffering. They’re suffering a lot. That’s why I am doing this.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
07:50 Sanjay Gupta:
Imagine having everything you’ve ever known taken away, in an instant. Your way of life, your home, your career, your safety. And in the middle of all that, you decide to dedicate yourself to helping others.
Well, two years ago I travelled to Turkey near the Syrian border to meet this extraordinary group of volunteers. They are doing what’s been called the most dangerous job in the world, and they are heroes in every sense of the word.
08:18 You’re watching an extraordinary rescue in Aleppo, Syria, in 2014. For 12 hours, these men have been digging and drilling and they are about to save the life of a two-week-old baby. The baby’s saviours are known only by the iconic protective gear they wear on their heads.
In an area of the world bursting with too many men in black hats, they are the cavalry. The White Helmets.
JAMES LE MESURIER, Founder, Mayday Rescue
08:45 James Le Mesurier:
They have all chosen to risk their lives to save others and that makes every single one of them a hero.
08:52 Sanjay Gupta:
James Le Mesurier is the architect of the organisation, which puts its volunteers to extensive rescue and medical training, as they are usually the first and only emergency response team on the scene.
This is a group of ordinary Syrian men and a few women. Zuheera Armanzi was once a blacksmith. Ibrahim Alzopi, a barber. Ahmad Rahal, a detective.
09:18 But for the time being they have left their previous jobs, their previous lives, and they now volunteer to run towards what everyone else is running from.
09:30 James Le Mesurier:
They’re ordinary heroes, and around the world, when a civilian rescues somebody’s life, they’re described as a hero. They’re bakers, they’re builders, they’re taxi drivers. Each one of them had a choice for how he or she was going to play a role in what is going on in Syria right now.
09:55 Sanjay Gupta:
In April 2014 I travelled to southern Turkey to watch the White Helmets train. Everything you see here is a training exercise, but they are trying to mimic reality as close as possible. First, during daylight hours the sirens go on and the team jumps into action.
This is a simulation of the rubble after a bombing or an explosion. The White Helmets are looking for survivors.
10:27 These are specialised microphones that they’re using in this rubble to try and see if they can detect any signs of life. It’s very hard to hear in these situations. They use that, they use this machinery to see what they can try and find.
They hear some tapping underneath all this rubble. They’re having to sit like this so that we don’t make any extraneous sound from listening to that tapping to provide any sign of life underneath all this rubble.
10:54 Since most of these volunteers have no medical background, the focus on medical training is intense, covering everything from choking and respiratory issues to applying pressure in bandages and open wounds like gunshots; stabilising the spinal cord or fractured bones and recognising cardiac chest pain.
Temperature treatments run the gamut, from heat stroke to hypothermia.
11:18 There’s somebody underneath there, they know that now. Now it’s a question of getting that person out without jeopardising their own lives.
Remember: we’re watching a training exercise in Turkey. If this were the real deal, in Syria, there’s also the risk of a second attack. It’s known as a ‘double tap’, so speed is key. They don’t want to be spending too much time in the same place on the ground, but it is a balance. These are people who likely need serious medical care as soon as possible.
11:48 One of the things the White Helmets learn is that you just can’t simply lift the rubble off somebody. That could cause something known as ‘toxic shock’. Sometimes you’ve got to give oxygen, you’ve got to give fluids to the person even before you pull them out.
A successful rescue on the training ground, but their day is only halfway through. Night falls and the team sits down for a meal, but suddenly… the sirens wail again and they’re off. This group of trainees has no idea what they’re going to find on the scene, and that’s by design.
12:24 This is all part of an intense training to become even better, even faster.
All of a sudden this area filled with smoke. There is concern there may be another bomb or another attack coming, so they’ve asked for all the lights to be turned off. They don’t want to be a target themselves.
The number of volunteers has grown since we visited two years ago. Today, there are nearly 2,900 volunteers, and the number of people saved is astonishing, now numbering more than 72,000 lives and counting.
12:54 Of these brave volunteers, nearly 150 of them have been killed, 450 injured. It is truly one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
Just think about that: 2,900 responsible for saving 72,000. It’s why these extraordinary men and women were recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
13:19 James Le Mesurier:
Regardless of religion, regardless of politics, they save all lives.
How long more does it go on, do you think?
James Le Mesurier:
One day at a time.
Because, for the White Helmets, another day is another chance to save a life.
13:49 This past year our Vital Signs adventurers took us from the depths of South African caves…
13:54 David McKenzie:
So, we’re heading into the depths of the earth in the Grootboom cave.
To the edge of Havana’s famous Malecón seawall, in Cuba. Along the way we met some truly incredible people. But heroes can come in all shapes and sizes, some had four legs instead of two.
14:20 A little breakfast, a little grooming, and then it’s time to put on his work uniform. He does this routine four times a week, as a full-time employee with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
He has his own badge. He’s even on call.
LISA KINSEL, Volunteer Services, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
14:36 Lisa Kinsel:
He is in work mode right now. When Casper has his vest on, and he knows he’s working, he has this very calm demeanour.
15:05 Sanjay Gupta:
So, when the vest is on, he’s a different…
He knows he has a job to do, and he does it really well.
14:57 Sanjay Gupta:
A programme called ‘Canine Assistance’ trains the dogs for 12 to 15 months. Casper was the first four-legged full-timer on staff here. Lisa met him when he was 18 months’ old.
15:11 Lisa Kinsel:
When I first met Casper, he and I had a connection. We just knew that we were meant to be together so, we started working.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
15:22 Sanjay Gupta:
When you describe Casper, he’s got… I know it’s the eyes, there’s both the sympathetic and empathetic and there’s all this emotion in his face. What did you notice? What was it about him?
15:36 Lisa Kinsel:
I noticed that he’s like a big sponge. He takes it all in. And I think that’s what makes him work so well with the patients. And he knows that that child is maybe anxious, maybe he’s in pain. So when we have a visit like that and we leave the room, it takes him a few minutes to decompress.
How do you know that he’s decompressing? What’s he doing?
16:00 Lisa Kinsel:
He will literally just shut down. He will stand there. He will look at me and go ‘mum, I need a moment’. And it’s that non-verbal look that I can tell he really needs a break.
16:14 Sanjay Gupta:
This affects him, this job.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
16:18 Sanjay Gupta:
After a long day of successful visits, it’s time for Casper to head home, and like Lisa said, when that vest comes off, Casper is just a normal dog again, playing in the grass, eating dog biscuits. Tomorrow, he’ll be ready to do it all over again. To share some of that Casper magic with anyone who needs him.
16:41 Heroes can be covered in fur… or made of metal.
Remembering to enjoy life can sometimes be tough when you’re stuck in a hospital for a long time. Robert’s parents say he’s spent more time here in the last three years than at home.
He does school work, trying to keep pace with his friends in class back at home. To get some exercise, he walks laps around the hospital floor.
But today, there’s a special treat in store for him.
Hello, human companion! I am Meccanoid G15KS. Please tell me your name.
This is Meccano.
I believe it is customary to shake upon meeting a new acquaintance.
17:31 Sanjay Gupta:
And this is Keith Miller, a professor at the University of Missouri-St Louis. Here at the hospital, he’s affectionately known as ‘Dr Robot’.
Celia, the robot cruising around the Science Centre, was his idea.
KEITH MILLER, Professor, University of Missouri-St. Louis
17:46 Keith Miller:
Robots have the kind of potential computers always had. But robots have this physical dimension: they can also go, they can move, they can have an effect in the world that computers, your PC just sitting there can’t have.
It’s slotted here, so we pull it down.
I had never met Robert, and everyone I talked to said ‘Robert’s a great guy, he’s really smart, he’s really quick, but he’s real quiet – don’t take it personal’.
18:30 When that Meccano got going, he wanted to make that robot work. He lit up. And I loved to see that.
18:21 Sanjay Gupta:
Meccano is just a warm up. The real aim for this visit is to get Robert out of this hospital room. He can’t physically do that, but Keith found a way to do so, virtually.
Keith’s assistant, Trey, helps Robert set up the laptop.
Hello! Can you say ‘hi’?
18:43 Woman on screen:
Can you hear us alright?
18:46 Sanjay Gupta:
In no time at all, Robert is virtually controlling the robot in the St Louis Museum Centre down the road.
So, these guys over here are making parachutes.
18:56 Sanjay Gupta:
He is driving it from the laptop. He can see what it sees through the camera. He can have conversations with people on the museum site, including his tour guide for today, Christian.
Let’s head our way to the Paleo Lab, see if we can find some dinosaurs.
19:17 Chemistry teacher:
Strontium, Sodium Chloride, Lithium, and Copper. Which one’s your favourite? Which colour?
The green. Yeah, the copper is one of my favourites.
19:29 Keith Miller:
Even though we’re just a few miles from where their robot is, you could do this from here to Tokyo, and it would have pretty much the same kind of effect.
And in fact, we’re looking into that, is getting robots all over the place to talk to kids in lots of different hospitals.
19:48 Sanjay Gupta:
On the museum end, kids at the Science Centre notice the robot and come over to say ‘hi’.
Hi, Robert, my name is Jayden [?].
19:55 Keith Miller:
They’re making a connection, they’re getting tied together. What a great use of technology, to get a kid who has to be at the hospital and a kid who’s at the Science Centre and they make a connection via the robot. How cool is that?!
20:09 Sanjay Gupta:
We also met doctors embracing the newest technology in unexpected ways, like 3-D printers showcasing tiny hearts before the surgeon ever makes a cut.
20:21 And who could forget? Perhaps the ultimate risk for the ultimate understanding of our bodies. Pushed to the limit in the name science. Twin brothers Scott and Mark Kelly.
Scott & Mark Kelly
It started with a conversation in space.
20:36 NASA control:
Please stand by for a voice check from CNN.
Station, this is CNN. How do you hear me?
I hear you loud and clear. Welcome aboard the Space Station.
20:43 Sanjay Gupta:
And it ended in San Diego, with their first television interview together since Scott had returned from his mission, spending nearly a full year in space.
20:54 Your study is going to become a well-known study, this data is going to be out there and obviously, people are going to know it’s you two, because you’re the only twins that have been in a study like this at that time.
Private… the security of that information, just the privacy of it, how much do you worry about that?
21:11 Scott Kelly:
I’m not worried about it for me. I’m worried about it more for my kids like, they could potentially see that I’m susceptible to having this disease, and based on the person and what kind of person they are, that could have a significant effect on them.
21:26 Sanjay Gupta:
Did you have any reservations, Mark, about being in a study like this?
21:30 Mark Kelly:
I realised the significance of putting that information out there and flying in the Space Shuttle, there’s a lot of risk involved and it’s a risk versus reward thing, and the reward is really for our country and for our nation.
So, same thing with the science. There might be a little bit of a downside for us, but the benefit to the Space Programme and to the American people is enough to make it a pretty obvious decision.
21:57 Sanjay Gupta:
From astronauts to surgeons, dogs to robots, we’ve met some incredible heroes, changing the medical landscape.