CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who served as a White House fellow before embarking on a career in journalism, has been accused of falsely claiming that he helped perform brain surgery on an eight-year-old while covering the April earthquake in Nepal.
The Global Press Journal reported Tuesday that the girl identified in the CNN report as having undergone a craniotomy at the hands of Gupta never actually received surgery.
In a video that aired on CNN April 28, Gupta appeared next to stretcher-bound eight-year-old Salina Dahal, examining her CAT scan and commenting on her "dire" condition.
"She has a fractured skull, a blood clot, and her brain is swelling," he said. "Without emergent surgery, she’ll have permanent damage. Or, like so many other earthquake victims, she’ll die." Later footage showed Gupta, clad in scrubs, appearing to complete the surgery.
However, family and doctors of the young Salina confirmed to the Global Press Journal that she never underwent such an operation. According to her medical records, she suffered minor head injuries and a broken wrist during the quake.
An initial written story on CNN identified Gupta’s patient as 14-year-old Sandhya Chalise, who did undergo brain surgery, but the story was updated to name Salina as the subject of the operation.
A spokesperson for CNN first insisted that Gupta did indeed perform the surgery, later clarifying that he may not have been certain of the identity of his patient.
Gupta told NPR in an interview of the alleged error, "I don’t like to make mistakes. Sometimes you are beholden to other people for information, or you are verifying details in other ways. It gives me pause as a doctor. It gives me pause as a journalist."
"We want to be accurate, 100 percent," he added. "It was a chaotic situation, no doubt. You had a hospital turn into a massive triage area."
Gupta explained that it was his choice to change the initial CNN report as he "had every reason to believe … that the patient we had just operated on was an 8-year-old girl."
Having worked for CNN for over a decade, Gupta has won several Emmys for his work as a medical correspondent for the news network. Prior to joining CNN, Gupta in 1997 netted a year-long White House fellowship, during which he served as a special adviser to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton for whom he wrote health care speeches.
CNN is still investigating the validity of the report. The story page now reads above the original text:
Questions have arisen about the identity of the girl who Dr. Sanjay Gupta helped operate on during a week in Nepal in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. CNN is looking into those questions and will update our coverage as warranted. Gupta helped doctors at Bir Hospital in Kathmandu perform a craniotomy in a makeshift operating room on a young patient as described in this story; it is the identity of the patient that is in question.