Medical Team Goes to the Quake Stricken Zone, A Girl from Okinawa Takes Action to Repay Kindness


Many medical professionals are responding to the needs of the quake stricken zone.  Many find information source via internet much useful than the news coverage.

Medical institutions such as Japan Medical Association (JMA), universities, hospitals, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Red Cross, Hospital associations, Tokushukai group were quick to take actions after the disaster.  Because of the experience of the great Hanshin earthquake all organizations including organizations related to dialysis (where needs are highly emergent in moving and accepting patients) compiled their full capacity immediately.  University hospitals and other major medical centers like Red Cross that function as the center of medical care in the quake/tsunami hit area – in Iwate (at Sendai, Ichinoseki, Morioka), Miyagi, Fukushima prefectures were all working so hard together.
Aids from overseas arrived and among them were the Japanese doctors working at overseas who temporarily returned to join and help these natural disaster medical care network of the stricken area.

What comes first is the condition of the site.  We must be aware that, because of the tsunami, many hospitals and clinics vanished in seconds.  This is a very different situation compared to cases hit by the earthquake only.  I understand that Israel, for instance, sent a whole package of medical units just like at the wartime.  I also hear that the Japanese authorities were quick in giving permission to overseas doctors to provide medical care in Japan.  I would like to congratulate them all for their hard work.

The United States initiated the ‘Operation Tomodachi’, sending us much personnel and relief supplies.  They are being a great help.

Our team at HGPI and Impact Japan was busy for these several days in responding to the requests from the Disaster Relief NGO, Project Hope.  I am deeply thankful for the great help from everyone.
What we are doing now is seeing doctors who had just returned from Tohoku, trying to get the picture of what is going on at the site, gathering information.  Those actions are of course important, but the problem is that we can not find the ‘foothold for collecting information from the local area’.  In a sense this is understandable because this disaster has multiple adverse conditions such as damage, scale, access to the site, or weather.
At Fukushima they have another totally different problem caused by the nuclear breakdown.  Here, the need for medical care seems to be now shifting to the chronicle stage.  I think that, from hereafter, very important issues which involve social factors such as mental care of children (especially orphans) and elderly will gradually emerge to call people’s attention.

I would like to introduce to you one heartwarming story.  It is about Dr. Shimabukuro, a Critical Care Fellow at UCLA Pediatrics Department, whom I was introduced earlier by my friend at UCLA Pediatric Department.  She is originally from Okinawa and by a sheer coincidence happened to be in Okinawa when the quake came.  She took a quick action.  After finishing a lecture at an academic conference in Tokyo, she joined in a medical relief team and headed to Iwate.

I kept in touch with Dr. Shimabukuro, and arranged a meeting in the evening with her who just returned from Iwate and the three physicians who just arrived to Tokyo in the afternoon as the advance group of the American medical team.

The American medical team headed to Iwate early in the next morning, returned back to Tokyo at 2 am, and we had a briefing early in the morning after they took a few hours of sleep.  Then, we continued the discussion for 2 days, contacted relevant people via phones, e-mails, and other means to figure out the next possible actions.

Many people are working together in search for the best way to help and support.  I am truly grateful for their willingness to be of help.

By the way, Dr. Shimabukuro wrote reports about her experience at Iwate and managed to have it printed on the LA Times and Bruins, the newspaper of UCLA, in a very timely manner.

Los Angeles Times
UCLA Bruins

This series of actions by Dr. Shimabukuro apparently reflects her strong wish to pay kindness back to her mother country.  She is a native of Okinawa, spent her childhood in Okinawa and had high school education, went through college and medical school in the U.S., is currently working at UCLA as a medical doctor.