tv 60 Minutes CBS January 11, 2015 8:01pm-9:01pm EST
>> good news-- more people are going to get health care. bad news-- we have no way in the world that we're going to be able to pay for it. >> stahl: he's talking about obamacare, a subject steven brill knows well. and his comprehensive book comes just as the new congress is getting started, with many republicans gunning for the affordable care act. so what works and what doesn't? that's our story tonight. >> logan: there are few people in the world who have the skill, or the will, to attempt to climb one of the world's seven summits, the tallest mountain on each continent. >> if you don't make it to that path today, we go down. the expedition is done finished. >> all right. >> all right? you've got to move quick. >> logan: tonight, you'll meet young men who've done it... with no legs. >> ( bellows ) >> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl.
>> i'm morley safer. >> i'm lara logan. >> i'm bill whitaker. i'm scott pelley. those stores tonight on "60 minutes." >> cbs muntz watch update correspondents ertd >> cbs money watch update: >> president obama will propose ways to boost online security in the u.s. jerk called for a rap pit expansion of trade with india and gm is expected to unveil the all-electric chevy volt at the detroit auto show. i'm jeff glor, cbs news.
>> whitaker: visit colorado these days and you can smell change in the air. it's the scent of legal marijuana for recreational use. if you're a resident 21 or older, you can walk into a state-licensed store and buy up to an ounce of pot. tourists are limited to a quarter-ounce. colorado has allowed medical marijuana since 2001. but in 2012, voters amended the state constitution to allow recreational pot, and gave the government one year to make it work. colorado's governor calls it the most ambitious social experiment of the 21st century. three other states also have approved recreational pot. but none has gone further or faster into the legal retail weed business than colorado. the experiment just hit the one- year mark and we wanted to know
how it's going, so we headed to denver, the epicenter of a marijuana industry that's now in full bloom. welcome to the "mile high" city, where marijuana, long a symbol of the counter culture, now is just a part of everyday culture. it's a thursday night in downtown denver, and we were invited to a marijuana food and wine pairing catering to young professionals. you might expect to see the band toking up, but here everybody is. the food is sprinkled with marijuana, the wine infused with a strain called "killer queen." budtender leo dunaev selected it for the evening. >> leo dunaev: because of the mellowness of the strain, there isn't any kind of anxiety attached to it, so that's why we have such a crowd of happy and fantastic people. and what we're doing there, with that machine, is... it creates smoke that is cooled to minus-
ten degrees. and that smoke is then blown into this glass. and that allows the wine to open up and really bring in the fruit-forward qualities of it. >> whitaker: those who might remember pot from the '70s-- the marijuana grown and sold in colorado today is up to ten times stronger. there's a healthy appetite for the rocky mountain high, and no shortage of stores to supply the demand. there's the corner store in denver... >> $1.73... >> whitaker: a high-end boutique in aspen right around the corner from prada and gucci. colorado has licensed more than 300 recreational dispensaries so far, ringing up an estimated $288 million in sales, $37 million in tax revenue. this is a lot of pot. this is industrial scale. >> meg sanders: it is. >> whitaker: how many rooms like this do you have? >> sanders: when we're fully finished with our construction we'll have 12 like this.
>> whitaker: meg sanders is a new breed of cannabis c.e.o. driven to push marijuana into the mainstream. a suburban mother of two, she left a private equity firm to run mindful, a chain of four retail stores that sells recreational and medicinal pot. all of this is legal. that's just mind-blowing. >> sanders: it is. >> whitaker: meg, did you ever think you would be here doing this? >> sanders: no, never in a million years. i was working in a small financial office, and there just wasn't a lot of upward growth. and what better opportunity than to jump into a fledgling industry, something that we'll never see again in our lifetime. >> whitaker: her 44,000-square foot marijuana factory is cutting edge. automated water and nutrient systems feed the plants. lighting mimics the seasons so plants can be harvested year round. all this in a warehouse right
across the street from a denver police station. 60 mindful employees cultivate trim, and package up to 500 pounds of marijuana every month. this is not somebody's backyard. this is not some stoner's basement. this is a big business. >> sanders: this is industrial agriculture, absolutely. commercial... commercial grow right here. >> whitaker: which is why she recruited phillip hague, known in the trade as a master grower. he used to cultivate flowers on an industrial scale in texas. but his true passion is pot. what do you bring to the table here? >> phillip hague: efficiencies on the grow side. i treat this building more like a large-scale tomato greenhouse than your average cannabis grow. >> whitaker: but these ain't tomatoes. >> hague: these are definitely not tomatoes. it's a very specialized plant. >> whitaker: and you are personally familiar with your wares? >> hague: most definitely. yes, sir. >> whitaker: all of this still
is illegal at the federal level. the justice department is watching closely. the feds say they won't intervene as long as colorado's recreational pot doesn't fall into the hands of kids or criminals, or cross state lines. with marijuana's growing acceptance in colorado, sanders says she's comfortable as a cannabis capitalist. >> sanders: i have a massive engineering feat for you. >> alijah smith: all right. >> whitaker: her 23-year-old son alijah works with her at mindful. she says parents at her daughter's middle school seem more curious than critical of her business. do you have any concerns that your job is sending the wrong signal to your 13-year-old daughter? >> sanders: i'm not concerned about that. >> whitaker: at all? >> sanders: i'm not. this isn't carte blanche-- "oh because i work here, everybody should have access to it, and that includes her." we have very good conversations about it. she knows. she knows. >> whitaker: i mean, you say you're a business person. i think some parents would look
at this and say, "she's just peddling drugs." >> sanders: i can tell you that the drug dealer... illegal drug dealer on the corner in any state in this nation isn't carding, isn't checking your i.d., isn't making sure you have a medical marijuana card or you're over 21. this industry does it every day- - the stats show it. we've done a phenomenal job. >> whitaker: mindful expects to rake in $18 million this year, but it's not easy money. colorado requires every plant grown by a licensed operator to be tracked from seed to sale. each one has a bar-coded radio frequency i.d. tag and is logged into a statewide database. cameras watch it all. the goal is to keep every bud and bit off the black market. greenwood village police chief john jackson isn't sold. >> john jackson: law enforcement is really trying to do the right thing here. it's different, and it's
requiring a mind change or shift on our part. >> whitaker: jackson is president of the colorado association of chiefs of police. he says there's still illegal pot on the streets from underground dealers who don't have to levy 28% in state taxes. >> jackson: there's a common belief that, by legalizing it, you will get rid of the black market. i can resoundly say that the black market is alive and doing well. >> whitaker: it's still cheaper to buy it from the... the dealer on the street than to buy it in the store? >> jackson: certainly. you know, we've created an entire industry here. and i'm going to be honest with you-- there are some very responsible people that are involved. and it's like anything else in society. you've got a few people that are really making it hard for the others, and maybe use colorado as a platform to simply provide their marijuana to the rest of the country. >> whitaker: this is what he's talking about. in october, denver police and the d.e.a. raided several warehouse operations that were allegedly growing marijuana destined for out of state.
neighbors nebraska and oklahoma are suing to have the u.s. supreme court declare colorado's recreational pot market unconstitutional, claiming marijuana is crossing their borders. it's too early to say if other problems are taking root. colorado is just now starting to collect and analyze data on pot's impact on the state. >> andrew freedman: i do worry about if we are irreparably harming colorado. and it's... it's something that will take years to suss out. >> whitaker: this baby-faced 31- year-old, andrew freedman, is colorado's marijuana czar. he's a harvard law grad, hand- picked by colorado governor john hickenlooper to oversee the rollout of legalized recreational pot. there is no roadmap. i mean, you guys are racing ahead at, you know, 1,000 miles an hour, and you're trying to work this out on the fly. how do you do that?
>> freedman: it's an unbelievable challenge. within one year, we wanted to get our culture up to speed. what is the right amount to imbibe or to smoke and drive? what's appropriate around kids? what's appropriate in public? and society had never weighed in on these things before. okay, anything else on caregivers? black market, gray market-- where we're going on it? >> whitaker: he regularly calls together the department heads of revenue, health, education-- all the state agencies involved with marijuana-- trying to balance the demands of the people with public safety and the law. it's legal here, but outside of colorado, it's still illegal. it's a federally illegal drug. how do you square those two? >> freedman: well, it is a round peg in a square hole. it takes everybody being creative in ways they haven't been creative before, and knowing that, at any time, the federal government could come and shut us down, tell us that
what we're doing is illegal in their eyes. >> whitaker: you still think that's possible? >> freedman: sure. it's completely possible that, in a few years, somebody comes around and says... a new president says, "we're not okay with you doing this." >> whitaker: they know they're under a microscope. that's why colorado was quick to act when it bit into trouble with edibles-- marijuana candies, cookies, and other infused foods. just three months into legalization, a 19-year-old college student visiting denver leapt to his death from a hotel balcony after eating a pot-laced cookie. the coroner's reported noted "marijuana intoxication" as "a significant contributing factor." >> freedman: i think one of the things we didn't see coming was that people were going to overdose on edibles. and we're not going to try to hide that problem. new rules and regulations came out faster than i think you ever see state government do something. >> whitaker: new rules placed immediate limits on the amount of t.h.c., marijuana's major psychoactive ingredient, allowed
in edibles, and required new labeling detailing the potency of each serving. but the biggest cloud over the industry is banking. as long as the federal government continues to count pot proceeds as illegal drug money, most banks won't touch it. so colorado's billion-dollar marijuana industry is conducted almost entirely in cash. that's why meg sanders keeps a two-ton safe. so, your payroll was in cash? >> sanders: payroll, rent... >> whitaker: taxes? >> sanders: taxes, licensing fees, home depot, vendors, you name it, our... our electrician, absolutely. >> whitaker: all in cash? >> sanders: absolutely. from a public safety standpoint, it's definitely the number one issue that this industry faces. >> john hickenlooper: if you want to guarantee that a fledgling industry becomes corrupt and... and, you know becomes populated with gang activity, make it all cash right. that's as old as al capone right. cash creates corruption. >> whitaker: colorado governor john hickenlooper says a partial
solution might be a new state- chartered cannabis credit union. he's urging the federal government to approve it. still, despite the problems, governor hickenlooper says he's encouraged by the rollout of this green experiment colorado voters wanted. in the beginning, you didn't think it was a good idea? >> hickenlooper: no, i opposed it, you know, and i opposed it and i think even after the election, if i'd had a magic wand and i could wave the wand i probably would've reversed it and... and had the initiative fail. but now, i look at it and i'm... i'm not so sure i'd do that, even if i had such a wand. i mean, i think we've made a lot of progress. and, you know, still a lot of work to be done. but i think we might actually create a system that... that can work. >> all right, i will have an eighth of that. >> whitaker: meg sanders says marijuana is good for business... >> that's pretty groovy, dude. >> whitaker: ...and good for colorado. are you seeing a marijuana effect on the economy here? >> sanders: absolutely. you can't find an empty warehouse in the city of denver, really. i mean, you just can't. and then, think of the ripple
effect. i mean, we affect a ton of businesses-- security, marketing, you know, web hosting. you name... we're a business just like anybody else. we have the same needs. >> whitaker: today, you can walk into a mindful dispensary and buy a joint for $14.53. business is good. sanders is planning to expand. >> sanders: we're creating. we're saying, "please, trust us. we know that we can do this right." >> whitaker: i do remember, when this was rolled out, everyone thought that... that the sky was going to fall. >> sanders: it's still there. ( laughs ) it didn't fall. and business is thriving. and the customers are still coming through the door. so clearly, if i'm looking at my business and i'm looking at those around me, the consumer is saying, "yeah, this works." >> meet joel and lisa schneider of bud and breakfast at 60minutesovertime.com.
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>> stahl: this month marks one year since health insurance coverage under the affordable care act began and, from the president's point of view, so far, so good. more than ten million americans who didn't have health insurance before have signed up. but congressional republicans are gunning for obamacare. even if they can't outright repeal it, they want an overhaul. and with the debate just getting underway, author steven brill, who has spent the past two years immersing himself in the subject, has come out with a new book, "america's bitter pill," that takes a comprehensive look at what the new law does and doesn't do. brill argues that obamacare is the product of what he calls an
"orgy of lobbying" and backroom deals in which just about everyone with a stake in the $3-trillion-a-year health industry came out ahead, except the taxpayers. >> steven brill: good news-- more people are going to get health care. bad news-- we have no way in the world that we're going to be able to pay for it. >> stahl: steven brill says that the outrage is what the affordable care act doesn't do. >> brill: it doesn't do anything on medical malpractice reform. it doesn't do anything to control drug prices. it doesn't do anything to control hospital profits. >> stahl: so all the cost controlling side of this just went by the wayside? >> brill: 99% of it. >> stahl: brill learned that when it came to controlling costs, the white house was told up front: >> brill: after costs, you're never going to get anything passed because the lobbyists will just not allow it to be passed.
>> stahl: so let's go through what each entity won. >> brill: the drug companies-- they were going to get $200-plus billion worth of new customers able to pay for drugs. they were going to avoid the calamity of the real reforms that they were worried about-- price controls generally. >> stahl: canada. >> brill: you and i being able to buy drugs from canada. that would have cost them hundreds of billions. >> stahl: the hospital lobby did agree to cuts in how much the federal government compensates them for medicare patients, but brill says, overall, the tradeoff in new paying patients would more than make up for that. and the hospitals managed to keep other cost controls completely off the table allowing them to charge whatever they can get for hospital stays, and greatly mark up drug and test prices. in writing his book, brill wanted to find out how hospitals jack up those prices. he found the answer in the recchi family of lancaster ohio.
their experience, both before and after obamacare kicked in, shows all the things brill says the law should've dealt with like highly inflated hospital charges, but didn't. >> sean recchi: i just want to get healthy, and that's what i told them. >> stahl: their story begins in 2012 when sean recchi-- then 42, father of two-- was diagnosed with cancer, stage four non- hodgkin's lymphoma. >> sean recchi: i have two young children. you know, i want to see them get married. i want to see my grandchildren you know. too early. >> stahl: stephanie was determined to get him to m.d. anderson in houston, one of the premier non-profit cancer centers in the country. but because their health insurance policy was so limited, they had to pay up-front-- first, $48,900 for the evaluation, then more for the actual treatment. >> stephanie recchi: they told me that we would have to give
them another $35,000 to get him... to get chemo. >> stahl: did you have the money? >> stephanie recchi: i didn't. my mother did. >> stahl: your mother had to give you the money? >> stephanie recchi: yes. i just kept thinking in the back of my mind, "there's a mistake and we'll work it out. i just have to get him there and i have to get him better." that was my main concern. >> stahl: when sean was sick they felt vulnerable and scared. like most people in that kind of crisis, they never once asked what any specific item or test cost. when they got the bill, they gave it to stevn brill, who found charges he couldn't believe. >> brill: the first thing i saw in the bill was a generic tylenol for $1.50. now, that's not... >> stahl: one pill? >> brill: one pill. you can buy 100 generic tylenols for the same $1.50. so that's 1,000% mark-up. but who cares, it's just $1.50. as you start going down the bill, they had something like $15,000 worth of blood tests that medicare would've paid a
few hundred dollars for. >> stahl: the charges add up over the single-spaced 18 pages of the bill. independent hospital economists say these are all greatly inflated over their actual costs, like a pet scan for $5,453-- a 400% markup; three ct scans for $9,685-- an 1,100% markup. the charge for his room was $10,746 for six days. that comes to $1,791 a day. >> brill: you and i need to get into this business. it's a really good... ( laughs ) they call it non-profit, but it's a good business. >> stahl: the single largest charge was for his cancer drug rituxan-- for one dose, the hospital billed him $13,702. >> brill: the hospital paid $3,500 for that drug, okay? >> stahl: how many times... that's for...?
>> brill: that's a 400% mark up. >> stahl: this is a non-profit hospital. what does "non-profit" mean? >> brill: it means they don't pay taxes, that's the first thing it means. >> stahl: they don't pay any taxes? >> brill: no. they've created, in health care, an alternate universe economy where everybody, except the doctors and the nurses, makes a ton of money. and nobody is holding them accountable, and obamacare does zero to change any of that. >> stahl: m.d. anderson declined to appear on camera, but sent us a letter defending the prices it charges patients, saying, the costs reflect, in part, "using and maintaining expensive, state-of-the-art medical equipment" and "research to develop new and better treatments." but brill says hospitals get some federal aid for ne technology and says, in general, large non-profit hospitals are thriving businesses. he suggested we go to pittsburgh. once a steel city, today
pittsburgh's biggest business is a hospital complex, the university of pittsburgh medical center. its c.e.o., jeffrey romoff showed us the view from his office. here we are in the u.s. steel building. steel defined pittsburgh and now, you, the hospitals define pittsburgh, in the sense that you employ more people than any... >> jeffrey romoff: we employ 62,000. we are not only the largest employer in western pennsylvania, we're the largest employer in all of pennsylvania. >> stahl: it's a $12 billion-a- year global health conglomerate; by one estimate, the nation's top grossing non-profit hospital. so, what's your salary? >> romoff: my salary is seven... is $6 million. >> stahl: one of the arguments against these non-profits that are so big and make all this money is that so much of it's going to executive pay. you make $6 million. you have seven executives here who make more than $2 million,
and you have another 23 who make more than a million. >> romoff: so let's add it all up. what do you have, $100 million on $12 billion? i can't, off the top of my head, calculate what percentage that is, but it is likely less than 1%. >> stahl: but it's a non-profit hospital paying exorbitant executive pay. >> romoff: well, that's your judgment of it. i think my board determines what the appropriate compensation is for me and for all the other executives. >> stahl: he does run a top- ranked medical research center with a reputation for excellence, and he says he's been trying to rein in hospital costs. and he thinks he's come up with a solution. >> romoff: we have our own insurance company. >> stahl: you have your own insurance company? >> romoff: yes. >> stahl: as part of the company? >> romoff: yes. >> stahl: he says the beauty of it is there's no incentive for his hospital to overcharge his insurance company. in other words, there's nothing to gain in inflating a patient's bill. >> romoff: we are the same
family. it's the same kitty, and our premiums now are among the lowest in the country. >> stahl: his insurance company's policies can be used at his hospitals, as well as selected rival hospitals in the state. he thinks this idea of hospitals with their own insurance companies could be a model for the nation, and the best way to reduce inflated costs. okay, but you admit that you were part of the problem. >> romoff: not only were we part of the problem, we were one of the most successful parts of the problem. >> stahl: so you admit that you participated in a system that would, willy-nilly, jack prices way up? >> romoff: did i say anything about willy-nilly? >> stahl: i'm saying willy- nilly. >> romoff: i know. i'm not saying willy-nilly. >> stahl: what do you have to say about the hospitals who are still doing that? >> romoff: it is untenable and unsustainable. >> stahl: to be fair, hospitals do save lives. as brill says, "they do god's work." in sean recchi's case, m.d. anderson's treatment plan, the chemo, worked.
>> sean recchi: i am 100% cancer clean, and feel great. >> stahl: even though he's $84,000 in the hole. today, despite sean's pre- existing condition, the recchis have good health insurance because, in 2013, they signed up for obamacare. so now, they have total coverage, 100% subsidized by taxpayers. so, obamacare has passed. m.d. anderson goes to give someone rituxan-- are they still charging $13,700? >> brill: well, they probably are if you don't have insurance. >> stahl: if you do have insurance, through obamacare or otherwise, prices would, in most cases, be negotiated down. what about the recchis' $84,000 bill at m.d. anderson in houston? it would most likely not be negotiated down, because they signed up for medicaid under obamacare in ohio, which is not recognized in texas. in their letter, m.d. anderson
wrote: "thanks to the affordable care act, experiences like the recchis should become less common. however, the problem still exists." so even while some prices are being negotiated down, not all prices are. and brill says that overall costs are still going up because there are now millions more people getting covered and treated. you know, president obama says over and over that costs are coming down, or he implies they're coming down because of the affordable care act. >> brill: who knows? someday, maybe it'll be true. >> stahl: health care costs have slowed down, though brill says not because of obamacare. and besides, they're still rising at a rate double the pace of inflation. >> brill: the much touted, you know, savings that the president keeps talking about, it's still increases. >> stahl: so instead of going like that, it's going like that. >> brill: you know, if there's a
stat, if there's a piece of data that comes out that says that the galloping increase in the cost of some aspect of health care has started galloping a little less, it's touted as the cost is going down. it's just ridiculous. >> stahl: brill says he has come to appreciate the good that the affordable care act has done, in that it's a safety net for so many people like the recchis. but he wants the public to know that what was to be at its heart-- driving down the cost of health care-- was neglected, and it's the taxpayers who are left holding the bag. >> brill: obamacare is a "government takeover of health care"-- that's what the republicans say. obamacare is the opposite of a government takeover of health care. obamacare is the taxpayers intervening to pay the private sector for their already inflated prices that they charge for health care. >> stahl: is there any way now to go back and add cost containment? >> brill: it was impossible then; it's more impossible now.
when this becomes a fiscal crisis, that may be the ultimate... >> stahl: but you have to wait for it to be a crisis? >> brill: yeah, that's the way we do a lot of governing in this country-- we wait for something to be a crisis. when something becomes a crisis that enough of us care about then the lobbyists matter a lot less, because we care a lot more. earning unlimited cash back on purchases. that's a win. but imagine earning it twice. introducing the citi® double cash card. it lets you earn cash back twice, once when you buy and again as you pay. it's cash back. then cash back again. and that's a cash back win-win . the citi double cash card. the only card that lets you earn cash back twice on every purchase with 1% when you buy and 1% as you pay. with two ways to earn, it makes a lot of other cards seem one-sided. good job! still running in the morning? yeah. getting your vegetables every
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>> logan: there are few people in the world who have the skill, or the will, to attempt to climb one of the world's seven summits, the tallest mountain on each continent. tonight, you'll meet young men who've done it with no legs. their bodies and their lives were shattered in the wars in afghanistan and iraq. but on the big mountains, they find a way to reclaim what they lost on the battlefield, going beyond the limits of their injuries to achieve what seems impossible. at their side is a former hells angels biker named tim medvetz.
he never served in the military, but on his journey to the top of mt. everest, he says he found a way to help catastrophically wounded war veterans. we joined tim and a young marine as they climbed up the tallest peak in australia, and saw for ourselves how a mountain can change someone's life. it was below freezing at 6,500 feet above sea level, and private first class isaac blunt had hit the deep snow on mt. kosciuszko. the most brutal part of his climb was just beginning, and without knees, every stiff awkward step he took was a battle. >> tim medvetz: all right, man get it on! >> logan: his trainer, mentor, and self-appointed drill sergeant, tim medvetz, was pushing him every step of the way. >> medvetz: if you're going to fall, just fall straight back. i'm behind you.
>> logan: by that afternoon, a severe storm had enveloped them in blinding snow and wind. isaac was only halfway to the summit, and he could barely move. >> medvetz: i need everything you've got. otherwise, we're done. >> logan: their journey to this mountain started two months earlier in the hills outside san diego. we met isaac as he was starting to train with tim, who was preparing him for long days in his new climbing prosthetic legs. what appeals to you about the thought of trying to climb a mountain? >> isaac blunt: i knew that it was going to be a challenge. i would have to... like, i'd have to get out of my chair, have to start doing everything that i've been wanting to do. >> logan: how would you describe the last two years for you? >> blunt: hell. >> logan: isaac was 20 years old when he was sent into the center of the fight against the taliban in afghanistan. a small-town boy from wisconsin, he grew up in a military family,
and all he ever wanted was to be a marine. on patrol in helmand province in 2011, just three months into his deployment, isaac stepped on an i.e.d, which blew away most of his lower body. >> blunt: they told me that i had lost both my legs. they told me that, unless i was able to move my fingers, they were going to take my arm because i really messed up my... my bicep and my forearm. >> logan: two weeks later, the doctors had to remove his eye. after you'd already lost your legs and nearly your arm, was that hard? >> blunt: i think the hardest part was finding out that my testicles were gone. luckily, i have a daughter though. and she's... she's a miracle. >> logan: isaac battled depression for the next two years, and had all but given up
on his recovery when he learned about tim medvetz and his work with other veterans who'd survived catastrophic injuries. why did you choose isaac? >> medvetz: a lot of these guys, you get used to the wheelchair because it's easy, you know? putting legs on is not easy-- it's painful, it's work. >> logan: and that's where isaac is now? >> medvetz: and that's where isaac is now. and that's where i come in. kosciuszko! bam! >> logan: tim chose the lowest of the seven summits for isaac because of the severity of his injuries. but he also chose winter, the toughest time of year. rehabilitation comes from the challenge, he says, not from making it easy. >> medvetz: i have to give him a mountain that's like a mt. everest to him. and with all those injuries he has, and i'm going to take him up the hardest route. you factor all those things in there-- i mean, there's a good possibility he might not make it. >> logan: the first thing isaac encountered at the base of the mountain was this dense
underbrush covered in snow that tangled and twisted around his artificial legs. there was no trail, and with his prosthetics digging into his stumps, he painfully fought his way up the mountain. with each step, isaac moved only a few inches, and after seven hours of climbing on that first day, he'd barely made it a mile. >> blunt: i'm not very good at blazing a trail. >> logan: as darkness fell, tim stayed at his side. >> medvetz: it's all about right now, getting to camp. it's all i want you to focus on. >> blunt: there was a few points that, i swear to god, i thought my bone broke through my skin. i just wanted to tell tim, like, "dude, i can't do this. like, i'm in way too much pain. i can't do this." >> medvetz: at some point, it becomes more mental than physical. and that's the part where it
comes down to this and this. >> logan: tim medvetz would never tell you he knows what it's like to be wounded on the battlefield, but what helps him relate to injured veterans like isaac is his own experience of struggling to overcome life- threatening injuries from a motorcycle crash 13 years ago. >> medvetz: half of my back has a net cage around it, then bolted with six bolts, and it's been fused. i have two metal plates in my head and ten screws. i have two metal plates and ten screws in my right hand. >> logan: so, you're a hells angel. you're a biker, you're a tough guy. what's it like to suddenly find yourself in this state completely vulnerable and broken? >> medvetz: i would just, you know, cover the pain with, you know, 15, 20 vicodins and whiskey. >> logan: at the bottom of a downward, destructive spiral tim picked up jon krakauer's book "into thin air," about a hiking tragedy on mt. everest in which eight people died.
he says climbing everest struck him as the ultimate way to prove to his doctors and himself that he was still capable of doing something that difficult. so, with no mountain-climbing experience and a body patched together with metal, he set his sights on conquering the world's highest peak. >> medvetz: this was going to be my rehabilitation. you've got to understand something. like, for a guy like me to walk into these... these rehab place, these people doing these little... you know, squeezing the ball thing and... i like... i turned around and walked out. i never did any physical therapy. for me, that was just... that wasn't enough. >> logan: that was like dying? >> medvetz: yeah, it was like dying. yeah, it was. and i felt like i was dying inside. so, i needed... i needed a punch in the mouth, you know? and... >> logan: and mt. everest was that punch in the mouth? >> medvetz: mt. everest was that punch in the mouth. >> logan: six years later, on his second attempt, tim summited the mountain as part of the discovery channel series
"everest: beyond the limit." he says the experience got him off his pain pills and back on his feet. he became convinced it could do the same for injured war veterans, so he created what he calls "the heroes project," a one-man organization that takes amputees where most able-bodied people wouldn't dare venture from the frozen tundra of antarctica to the top of mt. mckinley, the highest peak in north america. >> medvetz: big mountains like that, they, you know, forget that they even lost their legs. >> logan: because if they can do that, they can do anything. >> medvetz: they can do that they can do anything. >> logan: these three young men were all wounded fighting the same enemy in afghanistan as isaac, and also recovered here at the naval medical center san diego, where isaac was preparing for his climb. each one of them followed tim medvetz to climb one of the seven summits.
he took marine corporal kionte storey to the coldest place on earth, antarctica, where he struggled for two weeks to get to the top of mt. vinson. >> medvetz: you deserve it, man. >> kionte storey: going through my injury, i lost myself. didn't have a clue who i was. i got to that point where i was actually starting to hit that breaking point of, you know, you hit that suicidal plateau. and getting to the top of that mountain, i felt like i found who i actually was, who i am and what i can do. >> logan: and staff sergeant mark zambon traveled with tim to africa, where he conquered the continent's highest peak, mt. kilimanjaro in tanzania. >> mark zambon: at that moment it was like, you know, that answered it for me. that this injury, like, does not define my life. i define it. and life is still able to be powerfully lived, even in this condition. >> medvetz: you got to dig deep, man. >> logan: and corporal brad ivanchan went with tim to south
america, where he climbed 23,000 feet to the summit of mt. aconcagua less than a year after losing both his legs. >> brad ivanchan: it's something that you can carry with you the rest of your life, and it also helps you put a closure on a period in your life, too. i don't know where i would be today if i had not done it. it's definitely improved my life significantly, and my outlook on life significantly. >> logan: they all said it was the most physically demanding thing they had ever done in their lives. >> medvetz: it's miserable. i mean, high-altitude mountaineering, it's just... it's just pure suffering period. you're freezing and you're starving. your body's withering away. you're aching, you're... it's just... it's horrible. >> logan: sounds like hell. so why do people do it? >> medvetz: for that moment. that five minutes on the summit. that accomplishment. >> logan: what if something happens to one of them? what if they... what if they do die on one of your climbs with you?
is that a conversation you have with them? >> medvetz: of course, yeah. from day one. i mean, i'm taking them to a mountain that, you know, people die on. >> logan: it might happen. >> medvetz: it might happen. and that's part of the recovery, and that's part of the rehabilitation. >> logan: in what way? >> medvetz: it's like deploying to iraq, deploying to afghanistan. it's like going on... on a patrol every day. they don't know if they're coming back, you know? and that's... that's a powerful... powerful, life- changing experience. >> logan: back on mt. kosciuszko, where the storm had grown stronger and more threatening, isaac's mission had now become extremely dangerous. after three days, he was far from the summit. >> medvetz: if you don't make it to that path today, we go down. the expedition is done finished. >> blunt: all right. >> medvetz: all right? so, you've got to move quick. >> logan: the storm turned into a whiteout, with 60 mile-an-hour winds and zero visibility.
>> blunt: once that storm hit, the only way i could actually follow the trail is if i had somebody literally two feet in front of me so i could see their snow shoes. there was a few times that like, i'd sink in or something. and he... the guy in front of me would get... get a little bit, like, further ahead. i'd look up, i couldn't even see him. >> logan: unable to move, the team hunkered down to wait it out. they were stranded for two long days. just as they were reaching their limit, the skies cleared leaving behind a hard, icy surface on the mountain. >> blunt: i was able to move so much faster because all the snow was compact-- i wasn't sinking. i wasn't having troubles with my side sticks. i could stay on top of the snow. >> logan: isaac covered four miles in this one day, more
ground than he had the entire expedition, and the summit was now finally within his reach. but he still faced the most challenging part-- the final 400 feet of vertical elevation to the top. >> medvetz: you in pain? i know you're in pain. >> logan: the five days isaac blunt had endured on mt. kosciuszko were the first he'd spent without his wheelchair since losing his legs two years before. now, he was standing on top of one of the seven summits of the world. >> blunt: ( bellows ) [ female announcer ] hands were made for talking. feet...tiptoeing. better things than the pain stiffness, and joint damage of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. before you
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(siren blaring) (sighs) what's the word? straight-up robbery. neighbor reported a couple of suspicious guys walking out with stuff. diplomat's place, right? oh, yeah. (distant laughter) did you hear that? (distant voices and laughter) (indistinct voices) (laughter) (indistinct voices) (indistinct voice on tv) (whispering): what's up with that? somebody locked in there? (indistinct voice speaks foreign language on tv)