Recovery in Japan Ongoing, But Help Still Needed

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.—In the aftermath of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Tohoku, Japan, earlier this year, survivors of the incident were left exhausted, anxiety-ridden and angry, Shigeru Saito, MD, of Shonan Kamakura General Hospital in Japan, said during the TCT 2011 Inspirational Address. “Our minds were occupied by negative sentiment, everybody became selfish and we lost sympathy,” he said.

Direct effects of the quake included the loss of electricity, water, gas and food; a breakdown of roads and highways; and the shutdown of railways. Within 30 minutes of the earthquake, a tsunami hit the coastline, with waves reaching 130 feet. The death toll climbed to nearly 16,000, with almost 4,000 still missing today.

The tsunami disabled the Fukushima nuclear power plant, resulting in radioactive pollution across a wide area of Japan. All power was shutdown at Saito’s hospital. Power supply to ventilators, catheterization machines and patient filing systems was lost. All elective procedures were halted; shortages arose in drug supplies and medical devices.

In this time of despair, many countries lent a helping hand and provided relief for the people of Japan. Gradually, the mindset of the surviving countrymen and women changed. “We realized that we had to do something, whatever we could do for those suffering from the disaster,” Saito said.

As a result, Saito volunteered in the center of the disaster as a medical assistant for 1 week following the tragedy. “I realized through the experiences as a medical assistant [team] member how many people were trying to do something for the suffering people,” he said.

Saito said that while the people of Japan have made huge strides since the disaster, they are still experiencing great difficulty, and that everyone should do something to help. “Taking action is the only way to recover,” he said. “On behalf of all Japanese people, I would like to thank everyone around the world who has kindly provided support for us.”

In response to the tragedy, the Cardiovascular Research Foundation initiated a scholarship program to bring Japanese physicians to the TCT meeting. CRF also created a user-friendly charitable fund so that the medical community could contribute to the cause. That fund is still ongoing today.

“I must say that [from] everyone at CRF, Columbia University and the American College of Cardiology, our heart goes out to any people who are in distress,” TCT Course Director Gregg W. Stone, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center, New York, said during the address. “We feel a very special connection to the Japanese people, particularly through the field of interventional cardiology because of the partnership and collaboration we have had with them in learning how to deal with so many complex patients with CHD over the years.”