Japanese Physicians Recount Tsunami’s Impact on Local Medical Community

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.—On Friday, March 11, 2011, not far off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, Japan, one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history triggered a tsunami that devastated much of the surrounding coastline, in some cases nearly 10 miles inland.

Shigeru Saito, MD, director of cardiology and catheterization laboratories at Shonan Kamakura General Hospital in Kamakura, Japan, immediately went to work in the disaster area as a member of a medical assistance team.

“Many local clinics were wiped out by the tsunami,” Saito told TCT Daily. “Patients lost their attending physicians, pharmacies and even their medical records. Thus, we could not provide full treatment to them.”

Saito, who was an early proponent of PCI in Japan and the first champion of transradial catheterization in the country, said, “In the direct disaster area, there supposedly were many heart attack victims, although due to the confusion, we do not have exact statistics.”

Because of an unpredictable power supply, “elective procedures were postponed for at least a month. In many hospitals, the case number dropped markedly,” Saito noted. “Most of the doctors were focused on the disaster.”

Complicating the situation, medical device manufacturers were put out of commission by the tremors. “Supplies for PCI devices were stopped,” Saito reported, although some physicians were able to bring balloons, guidewires and other items to the hospitals in the disaster zone. A local maker of the barbiturate bucolome was also destroyed.

Saito will relate the Japanese PCI community’s disaster experience on Thursday during the TCT 2011 Inspirational Address in the Main Arena at 10:45 a.m. The talk is titled “A Story of Despair, Hope and Recovery in Japan.”

Another earthquake legacy: posttraumatic stress disorder

According to Takehisa Shimizu, MD, PhD, a research fellow with the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF) and Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in New York, property loss is not the only legacy of the devastation.

When the earthquake struck, Shimizu said his former colleagues in Ishinomaki, Japan, predicted that a tsunami would soon follow. “They moved all the patients to the hospital’s roof,” Shimuzu recalled. The tsunami reached the hospital as expected, and they all survived, he reported, but having witnessed the tsunami destroy everything around them, including their homes and loved ones, “many doctors and nurses now are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.”

In the United States, Tadayuki Yakushiji, MD, also a fellow at CRF/CUMC, said hearing the news of the disaster back home was a “dreadful moment. I was out of my mind for a while. I realized how important our lives are and was deeply impressed with the PCI doctors who sacrificed by going to the disaster zone.”

One doctor in particular who impressed Yakushiji was Saito. “Usually, famous doctors do not take such a chance, but he worked at the disaster zone for 1 week, without even stopping to take a bath,” Yakushiji noted.

Recalling the aftermath, Saito said, “It was the greatest shock of my life. My attitude changed from ‘What can I do for myself and my family?’ to ‘How can I contribute to the next generation?’”

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