CNN’s Sanjay Gupta Under Scrutiny After Misidentifying Patient in Nepal Surgery


CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is under scrutiny Thursday after a report alleged he misidentified a patient on whom he operated in Kathmandu following the earthquake in Nepal two months ago.

In a CNN report after the earthquake, Gupta said he’d performed emergency brain surgery on 8-year-old earthquake victim Salina Dahal. The report seemed the kind of immersive journalism CNN treasures from its correspondents, whom it often sends into tornadoes and riots. Everyone else reports; CNN’s journalists operate.

But the San Francisco-based Global Press Journal reported Wednesday that Gupta never operated on Dahal, but rather on a 14-year-old girl named Sandhya Chalise. GPJ spoke with Dahal’s family, who confirmed she suffered from head wounds and a broken wrist but never had an operation.

Watch the initial report, in which Gupta identifies the patient as Dahal, below:

Oddly, CNN’s initial online report was correct, but updated nine hours later with the inaccurate information. “Portions of the story, including sentences that originally described Sandhya’s injuries – blood clots in her brain – were used, word for word, to describe Salina,” GPJ reported. “The story’s original sections about Salina, which correctly described her minor injuries, were deleted.”

CNN conceded to GPJ Gupta may not have known the identity of the patient. “All the patient information including name and age was provided to Dr. Gupta by the hospital,” the network said.

Sources from the hospital, including another surgeon, also cast doubt over whether Gupta actually participated the operation:

The new version of the story, which is still live on CNN’s site as of press time, is accompanied by a video that features Gupta talking about Salina as his patient. In other videos on the site, Gupta describes Salina and claims to have participated in her brain surgery.

GPJ also located Sandhya (incorrectly identified as 15 years old in CNN’s coverage) in her home village of Ramkot and confirmed that she underwent a brain surgery on April 27. Sumitra Chalise, Sandhya’s mother, and Prakash Bista, her uncle, say they saw Gupta walk into the operating room, but they’re not sure what he did there.

Speaking to Mediaite, a CNN spokesperson disputed the implication that Gupta did not participate in the surgery. The network provided GPJ with previously-unreleased and unedited video showing “Gupta in the same operating room with Jha, using a hand-operated drill, a string saw and other tools,” contradicting the publication’s hospital source.

In an interview with the site, Sandhya’s mother indicated that the presence of what she called “foreign doctors,” in which she included “one from CNN,” might have gotten her daughter operated on sooner, potentially saving her life in the emergency situation. Watch below:

Interview with Sumitra and Sandhya Chalise from Global Press Institute on Vimeo.

Gupta appeared on New Day Wednesday morning to offer a clarification. “What has been flagged for me is that the patient that I operated on may not have been this eight-year-old girl but rather a 14-year-old girl in that same hospital during that immediate aftermath of the earthquake,” he said. “We haven’t independently verified this, but I wanted to provide this update and be very transparent.”

“When you report on these types of things you take lots of different pieces of information and consolidate it, and in the end you tell the story,” Gupta said. “In the end, there was a girl who needed the operation. The operation was performed. I’m happy to tell you that based on what we’re hearing, both girls, the eight-year-old and the 14-year-old girl, are doing well.”

As to why the initial report was changed, Gupta said that he had ordered the changes under the mistaken impression he had operated on Salina, not Sandhya.

“I wanted to get the story right,” Gupta told NPR. “I didn’t think the story was right. I had every reason to believe based on the [CAT] scans, based on what the doctors were telling me, based on the story they had told me, that the patient we had just operated on was an 8-year-old girl.”

Watch Gupta’s comments below:

[Image via screengrab]

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