It has been 32 years since the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association began sending a team of physicians to the United States every two years to conduct medical examinations on those of Japanese and Korean descent who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski in 1945.
More than 200,000 people died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or shortly thereafter as the result of acute injuries. By 1950, the number had risen to 340,000. As of August 2009, the figure has risen to an estimated 410,000 atomic bomb survivors who have died.
The comprehensive examinations are conducted for the benefit of survivors living in the United States, many of whom, due to exposure to radiation in the bombings, have medical problems.
This year, one team of doctors conducted medical examinations in Los Angeles and Honolulu and the second team conducted them in Seattle and San Francisco. Medical examinations on roughly 130 patients in San Francisco took place at the Sr. Mary Philippa Health Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center on Oct. 17 through 19.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, The A-Bomb Casualty Council of Hiroshima, Hiroshima prefecture and city offices and local medical organizations and representatives from the prefecture and city of Nagasaki supported the mission.
When the mission began in 1977, the doctors were not able to conduct examinations as they lacked a license to practice in the United States. According to the Friends of Hibakusha, the San Francisco Medical Association eventually established a sister relationship in 1981 to create a local affiliation with the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association to make the examinations possible.
“As hibakusha (A-bomb survivors), many have health concerns and questions regarding their health and that of their children, the second generation hibakusha,” said Dr. Jitsuro Yanagida, team leader of the mission and permanent member of the board of directors of the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association.
“Many of the hibakusha are more comfortable talking about their health in Japanese. Our visit gives them an opportunity to do so,” said Yanagida.
“This clinic is wonderful for the hibakusha. The physicians speak our language and understand the emotional and psychological scars we bear,” survivor Kaz Suyeishi, president of the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors and a spokesperson for the survivors, said in a statement.
According to Friends of Hibakusha representative Geri Handa, three out of four American survivors are women, now in their mid-to late-‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Most were between five and 24 years of age when exposed to the bomb. “Many survivors suffer from physical, emotional, and financial hardship as a result of their exposure and additional health concerns due to aging.
“In Japan, hibakusha have been recorded to have a higher chance of developing cancer, especially in the lungs, liver and colon. The hibakusha in Japan get special treatment because of their status. We think it is only fair that hibakusha here receive the same treatment. After all, they were also victims. In some cases the Japanese government will pay for their transportation back to Japan to receive further treatment,” said Yanagida.
While acknowledging that the “swine flu outbreak in Japan has made it a less-than-ideal time for the doctors to take two weeks off, it is extremely important to honor the mission’s promise,” Yanagida explained.
One of the patients receiving treatment was Jack Dairiki. Originally from the United States, Dairiki moved to Hiroshima with his father in 1941. He experienced the bombing at the factory he was working in at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945.
“When the explosion happened, I witnessed the nuclear ‘mushroom cloud’ over the city. At 3 p.m., I saw the first casualty — her skin was hanging off, and she was moaning in pain. There were so many people hurt, so many dead bodies.”
The Japanese mission has examined Dairiki many times. He has liver and thyroid abnormalities and has suffered from prostate cancer, which is “most likely due to the radiation I was exposed to,” he said.
“I appreciate the experience I went through because it taught me to value life. I am grateful to the doctors because I can feel safe in receiving care specific to hibakushas,” said Dairiki.