- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

NEW YORK

If Barack Obama wants a surgeon general with visibility to promote health issues in his administration, it can’t hurt to hire a CNN correspondent called one of People magazine’s “sexiest men alive.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon and one of CNN’s busiest personalities, is under consideration by the president-elect for the job. Should the offer come, CNN said Gupta has indicated he is likely to take it. Obama will have a man who has interrupted a TV assignment to perform emergency brain surgery and gotten into it on air with Michael Moore.

He has a weekend health show on CNN and has traveled across the country for a series on the dangers of obesity called “Fit Nation.” Soon he may have the chance to do something similar for the government.

Gupta, 39, grew up in the Detroit area, the son of parents who moved from India in the 1960s to work at a Ford plant. He earned undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan.

While he works at CNN and for CBS News, Gupta is also a faculty member at the neurology department at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He performs surgery at Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital.

Gupta’s no stranger to the White House; he was one of 15 White House fellows appointed in 1997 and he advised Hillary Rodham Clinton while she was first lady.

Gupta joined CNN in 2001 as a health correspondent. In addition to efforts like “Fit Nation” and 2008 documentaries on the health toll taken on presidents, Gupta has talked about health angles of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. Since 2006, he’s also had a contract with CBS News to do health stories on the “CBS Evening News.”

“He’s an amazing communicator,” said CBS News President Sean McManus. “He has a way of breaking down the most complicated medical and health issues into language that everyone understands. He’s very, very likable and he has the ultimate credibility in that he is literally a brain surgeon.”

When reporting for CNN on a U.S. Navy medical team in Iraq in 2003, Gupta unexpectedly became part of the story when he was called upon to conduct emergency brain surgery on a 2-year-old Iraqi boy shot by U.S. Marines when he was in a car that did not stop at a checkpoint. The boy did not survive.

“Medically and morally, I thought it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Gupta told The Associated Press at the time. “It was a heroic it was not an elective operation, it was a heroic attempt to try to save the child’s life.”

Gupta took on “Sicko” filmmaker Moore in 2007, saying in a fact-checking report that Moore had fudged some facts in his documentary on the health care system. It led to an angry on-air confrontation between them. “I and others are going to be a lot more skeptical with what I see on CNN,” Moore said.

People magazine named Gupta one of its sexiest men in 2003, two years before he married his longtime girlfriend Rebecca Olson. People said Gupta lived dangerously by sometimes driving his Jaguar XK8 too fast and had fans who called themselves the Gupta Girls.

He has made a handful of political donations to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In a 2005 segment on CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now” on health problems that were surfacing with widely used prescription drugs such as Vioxx, Gupta talked about drug companies’ efforts to woo physicians by offering everything from free pens to free trips. He admitted that he had accepted pens from time to time.

“If you take a pen, are you going to prescribe that drug more often? I haven’t seen a situation where the drug company says, listen, we’ll only give you X if you prescribe the drug so many times. I haven’t seen that, that transparent a sort of thing,” Gupta told Zahn.

“But there is a sort of more implicit sort of understanding between the pharmaceutical companies and doctors, I think. It is not so clear that they’ll say, OK, you got to do X number of procedures and we’ll give you a trip to Aspen, or you got to prescribe the drug so many times and we’ll give a free lunch. You don’t see that. But there is a sort of, again, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.”

Gupta’s show “House Call” airs Saturday and Sunday mornings. He also does a global health program for CNN International.

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