Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles That Are Saving Lives Against All Odds

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An unborn baby with a fatal heart defect . . . a skier submerged for an hour in a frozen Norwegian lake . . . a comatose brain surgery patient whom doctors have declared a "vegetable."

Twenty years ago all of them would have been given up for dead, with no realistic hope for survival. But today, thanks to incredible new medical advances, each of these individuals is alive and well . . .Cheating Death.

In this riveting book, Dr. Sanjay ...

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Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles That Are Saving Lives Against All Odds

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An unborn baby with a fatal heart defect . . . a skier submerged for an hour in a frozen Norwegian lake . . . a comatose brain surgery patient whom doctors have declared a "vegetable."

Twenty years ago all of them would have been given up for dead, with no realistic hope for survival. But today, thanks to incredible new medical advances, each of these individuals is alive and well . . .Cheating Death.

In this riveting book, Dr. Sanjay Gupta--neurosurgeon, chief medical correspondent for CNN, and bestselling author--chronicles the almost unbelievable science that has made these seemingly miraculous recoveries possible. A bold new breed of doctors has achieved amazing rescues by refusing to accept that any life is irretrievably lost. Extended cardiac arrest, "brain death," not breathing for over an hour--all these conditions used to be considered inevitably fatal, but they no longer are. Today, revolutionary advances are blurring the traditional line between life and death in fascinating ways.

Drawing on real-life stories and using his unprecedented access to the latest medical research, Dr. Gupta dramatically presents exciting accounts of how pioneering physicians and researchers are altering our understanding of how the human body functions when it comes to survival--and why more and more patients who once would have died are now alive. From experiments with therapeutic hypothermia to save comatose stroke or heart attack victims to lifesaving operations in utero to the study of animal hibernation to help wounded soldiers on far-off battlefields, these remarkable case histories transform and enrich all our assumptions about the true nature of death and life.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Thanks to recent medical miracles, the meaning of "hopeless" is dwindling. In Cheating Death, renowned neurosurgeon and chief CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta describes new discoveries and technologies that are saving lives that were previously almost automatically thought lost. In real-life example after example, Dr. Gupta describes how these unpredicted advances are changing not only the face of medicine, but the possibilities of human life. This forceful book received positive reviews in hardcover; now in paperback.

From the Publisher
"You will be on the edge of your seat as you read the superbly crafted stories of people who have beaten the odds, something I like to think I know quite a bit about. My friend Dr. Sanjay Gupta, America's doctor, has written a page-turner. It's an exciting medical thriller with the compassion, hope, excitement and aspiration that define Sanjay." --Lance Armstrong

"Dr. Gupta's new book is not only fascinating, it reads like a fast-paced adventure story, and it is. Full of literally heart-stopping moments, CHEATING DEATH is an account of modern-day scientific miracles, most of which would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago, and which expand the very boundaries of life itself." --Oliver Sacks

"I owe my recovery and my health to medical advances and the remarkable pioneers behind them. In his new book, the World's Doctor, Sanjay Gupta, delivers a breathtaking preview of a coming revolution in medicine that challenges virtually everything we think we know about living and dying. A truly provocative and fascinating reading experience." --President Bill Clinton

"Sanjay Gupta melds dramatic stories of people on the cusp of death rescued by life-saving advances. This book deeply touches the heart and enlightens the mind." --Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School, Author of How Doctors Think

"In Cheating Death, Dr. Sanjay Gupta chronicles a series of scientific advances that are saving patients' lives in striking and almost unfathomable ways. This is a wonderful book....All who read it will walk away feeling a sense of joy in the changes that Dr. Gupta so carefully and warmly details." --Henry S. Friedman, MD, James B. Powell, Jr. Professor of Neuro-Oncology; Deputy Director, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center

"Dr. Gupta has masterfully woven compelling human stories and medical drama that intersect that narrow line separating life from death. The brave doctors who courageously defy conventional wisdom and embrace bold science and the human condition will have you cheering and shaking your head in amazement." --Nancy L. Snyderman, M.D., NBC News Chief Medical Editor; Associate Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, University of Pennsylvania

Publishers Weekly
High-profile physician-journalist Gupta—a medical reporter for CNN and columnist for Time who declined President Obama's nomination to be surgeon general—knows a great story when he hears one, and in this collection he rolls out extraordinarily harrowing and inspiring tales from the annals of they-ought-to-be-dead. When there is an injury, a heart attack or any loss of oxygen to the brain, time is the essential factor in determining whether a patient will live. For instance, “therapeutic hypothermia,” by reducing the brain's need for oxygen immediately after a trauma, allows more time for treatments to work. Gupta also notes that lives can be saved through incremental changes to current medical techniques rather than revolutionary breakthroughs. Eliminating the breathing component from CPR and concentrating only on chest compressions has been shown to raise heart attack survival rates to an unheard-of 20%. The achievements are stunning, though Gupta notes “none of the exciting medical changes that we've come across will eliminate the sense of awe and mystery that stalks our notions of death.” Yet it's beyond comforting to know there are doctors who simply refuse to quit a brave but ultimately losing battle to wrestle control over death. (Oct. 12)
Library Journal
Practicing neurosurgeon, CNN medical correspondent, and best-selling author Gupta presents a nonfiction medical thriller about cutting-edge medical treatments ranging from therapeutic hypothermia to fetal surgery and informed by real-life stories and the latest medical research. Through his well-paced, distinct, and accent-free reading, Gupta displays his high comfort level with public speaking, using minimal medical jargon and providing clear and simple definitions. The sound quality is excellent, and the musical interludes meld nicely with the narration in the transitions between chapters. The only fault in this production is the lack of thought continuity between discs. Recommended for health-care professionals, students, and anyone interested in health care and advances in life-saving treatments. [Includes a bonus interview with the author; "Expect demand at public libraries from CNN viewers and readers of popular nonfiction," read the review of the Wellness Central hc, LJ 8/09.—Ed.]—Laurie Selwyn, formerly with Grayson Cty. Law Lib., Sherman, TX
Kirkus Reviews
In this followup to Chasing Life (2007), neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Gupta illustrates just how fuzzy the line between life and death can be, and explains what medicine and science are doing to blur it even further. When the heart stops, when tests indicate "brain death," when a patient hasn't breathed for an hour or more-these have long been understood as hard-and-fast markers of death. Gupta uses real-life stories to reveal how ambiguous these situations actually are: a skier who was successfully resuscitated after spending more than an hour frozen underwater; a man who emerged from a coma unscathed after having been declared a "vegetable"; a 22-week-old fetus whose damaged heart was repaired in utero. These stories and the science behind them are rounded out with a look at those who seek to cheat death even further. Researchers challenge the status quo on CPR, doctors experiment with "therapeutic hypothermia" and scientists seek to induce suspended animation in injured soldiers by mimicking the chemistry of hibernating animals. Gupta always presents fascinating information, even if the prose is occasionally clumsy and the storytelling inelegant. The author tries to bring a balanced perspective to each issue. The chapter on "Cheating Death in the Womb," for instance, includes a much-needed counterpoint by a sociologist who emphasizes that pregnant women are patients in their own right, not simply fetal "heart-lung machines." Because Gupta focuses only on the "medical miracles," however, he misses an opportunity for an important cost-benefit analysis of the highly risky and often-unsuccessful attempts to "cheat death."Well-informed and accessible, but incomplete.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446508865
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/11/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 344,814
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Sanjay Gupta, MD, is a practicing neurosurgeon at Emory University Hospital and associate chief of service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. He is a columnist for TIME magazine and a Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN and the host of House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Dr. Gupta also is a contributor to 60 Minutes and appears reguarly on the CBS Nightly News with Katie Couric.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted October 18, 2009

    Gupta misinforming about brain death

    In the book, on his TV show, and in interviews promoting the book, Gupta is unmistakably confusing coma, persistant vegetative state, and brain death. He's clearly linking his stories of recovery from vegetative state with brain death and organ procurement for transplantation. Brain death is an entirely separate condition from both persistant vegetative state, and coma. Mark Ragucci was never declared brain dead. The NIH (, and many other institions and organizations concerned with medical information, take pains to inform the public that there is a big difference. When a family is informed of a declaration of brain death they shouldn't have to feel that medical professionals are conspiring and failing to save their loved one. Yet Gupta seems determined to convince the public that brain death is just vegetative state, and that medical professionals are just reluctant to help the "brain dead".
    Why is he doing this? I can only guess. Its a far more dramatic story, and something sure to make him more money, to claim that more isn't done to save the brain dead because surgeons want organs for transplant. Organ transplantation has always sparked a primal irrational fear, generating more urban legends and ghoulish stories than any other medical procedure. Next of kin often refuse to allow organ donation because of the feeling that something ghoulish is being done with their loved one, and the suspicion that they are being allowed to die for someone else's benefit. Any number of news organizations, even respected ones, have, at one time or another, repeated the most bizarre urban legends of organ snatching as verified events. CNN has recently aired several reports claiming a vast US organ black market exists based on friend of a friend reports and one arrest of someone attempting to broker a kidney sale. Don't expect any followup reports or arrests.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    Black And White? Far From It

    We've all- always- been told to not judge a book by its cover. I'd disagree.

    The cover of Cheating Death is strikingly simple: a portion in white and a portion in black. But, like the line so oft described by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, it is shifted. And, like the 'faint no-man's land' created therein, Cheating Death finds itself on a few fine lines- yet, doesn't necessarily tread softly.
    Nevertheless, we'll walk this line. We'll find ourselves following several people with unbelievable stories. We'll believe them. But, more importantly, we'll understand them. This is not a book of optical illusions that leaves you wondering why? Or how? Neither does it leave you wondering where the illusions are. If balance is the decider of success, Gupta has found success in Cheating Death.
    Gupta often returns to the progress that is being made. But, with that, comes the maddening opposition to that progress. One is left wondering how such drastic changes in our perceptions of life and death (and how to go about blurring that perception) could be so ignored by the general populous. Yet, Gupta offers an explanation- though, you may not like it.
    However, despite the formidable amount of information I imagine was left out, there is one pebble (or boulder) I would have wished unturned- the role faith plays in the book. I concede that faith is an important part of how people view death- whether attached to any particular religion or not. Yet, in a world of medicine that sometimes holds reputation above all else, a book that delves- if only momentarily- into the world of faith, only holds to lose.
    Cheating Death, in all its moments of technicality and compassion, often feels strikingly inviting. Imagine, if you will, that Gupta's work is the script for one of his segments on CNN. In much the same way, you will be drawn in; you will smile; and, you may even cry. Gupta's writing style lends itself easily to this proposition- and, that may be one if its successes.
    What comes to mind is an excellently written, thoughtful episode of the successful television series, House. If you're of the inquisitive type, and wish to be unhinged (if only for a moment), read Cheating Death. If you'd rather sit- quietly, I hope- in a fragile sense of comfort, I won't stop you.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Most compelling medical research I've read....

    The book is an excellent and exciting read for those in the healthcare profession, and the students getting ready to join it, who are interested in advances in medical technology. Sanjay Gupta, MD has done an excellent job researching and organizing the information found in these pages.

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  • Posted December 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Medical innovations that impact people's survival rate - fascinating!

    Sanjay Gupta shares stories of patients that had fallen within that gray zone where they are "neither truly dead or actually alive," and have subsequently benefited from good luck and medical expertise and recovered to lead productive lives.

    I found the book fascinating. The clear and detailed descriptions of the medical cases and discoveries were riveting in and of themselves. For instance, learning how hypothermia can slow down the effect of lack of oxygen caused by a stroke or a heart attack is helpful, but it made a difference to learn that "next step." The use of hypothermia only became practicable when doctors discovered that it is essential to minimize the use of liquids when raising the body's temperature. By keeping the use of liquids to a minimum, the doctors are able to prevent the brain from expanding and avoid subsequent brain damage.

    I hadn't known much about CPR and did not know that that survival rate from cardiac arrest outside of a hospital is rare. Did you know that only about 2% of the victims survive without long term damage? In certain parts of Arizona, people have a substantially better survival rate because of the use of a modified CPR technique and a public health effort to train more people in CPR. The number one thing that can save your life if you have a heart attack is to have a bystander who is trained in CPR and is willing to help.

    The bystander rate of CPR is 20%, in large part because many people are hesitant about performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Through training and education programs, places like Seattle have a 50% rate of bystander CPR assistance and this has meant that the cardiac arrest survival rate in Seattle is much better than in other parts of the country.

    Doctors studied the role of artificial respiration in emergency resuscitation and analyzed the three-phase model of cardiac arrest (electrical, circulatory and metabolic). I won't go into a technical explanation here, but the in the first 4 minutes, the heart has its own energy and has oxygen. The heart needs assistance in getting its beat back. Defibrillation works during this phase because it reinserts the heart's rhythm. From the 4 to 10 minute mark is the circulatory phase, the heart needs assistance to circulate oxygen. It is critical to have someone pump the heart artificially. If there is a delay pumping the heart because the rescuer is performing mouth-to-mouth,then the heart isn't receiving the oxygen that it needs. Sanjay Gupta and the doctors that he cites point out that the most important thing is to get the blood and oxygen moving by compressing the chest.

    Those are just two examples of practical and revolutionary advances in medicine that Sanjay Gupta covers in Cheating Death. I found Cheating Death to be a fascinating read and recommend it to both laypersons and medical professionals both for the scientific innovations that it chronicles and for its clear writing style.

    Publisher: Wellness Central; 1 edition (October 12, 2009), 304 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  • Posted December 7, 2009

    Very Informative

    This easy to understand comprehensive work is quite informative and interesting. Any information that we could learn to extend our life expectancy is vital...especially as we age. I had taken the old CPR course and find this new recommended information easier and safer to put into use. Amazing how lives have been saved with this knowledge. Some would call these stories miracles..I would classify them as devine interventions.

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  • Posted December 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    Cheating Death by Sanjay Gupta, M.D. would be considered science fiction if the stories were not true. The dramatic vignettes include: a skier submerged in icy waters for over an hour without a pulse; a man with an invariably lethal brain tumor who lives to celebrate the thirteenth anniversary of his diagnosis; and a "hopeless" neurological patient who returns to his medical practice. These "medical miracles" occurred in large part due to the interruption of the death domino chain. As Gupta explains,

    Death is not a single event, but a process that may be interrupted, even reversed. And . . . at any point during this process, the course of what seems inevitable can be changed. That is precisely what . . . the book [is about]: the possibility of cheating death.

    In addition, to the compelling personal survival stories, Gupta also highlights exciting new medical research that may save scores of lives in the future. The chapter on suspended animation (a medically induced "safe cocoon") is particularly exciting! Suspended animation involves turning the heart off for an extended period of time and later restarting it. As one researcher reflects, "the whole of emergency medicine is a time dependent thing . . . . [And] things that can't be fixed now, we could fix with more time. There's no question."

    Cheating Death is an entertaining and eye opening read into the medical advances of today and a glimpse into the promise of tomorrow.

    Publisher: Wellness Central, Hachette Book Group (Oct. 12, 2009), 282 pages.
    Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the Publisher.

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