Thursday, June 21, 2001

Medical tests
offered to A-bomb

Free screenings give local bomb
victims options for treatment

By Helen Altonn

Hilo-born Izumi Hirano vividly recalls the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing of Hiroshima 1.3 miles away from his school.

"All of a sudden, my school building collapsed. We were on the second floor. That is why we survived. If we were on the first floor, we would have no chance at all."

Nobody was on the first floor, so most of the 100 students and teachers survived, he said.

Hirano is among about 90 A-bomb survivors living in Hawaii who will receive free comprehensive medical examinations from a Hiroshima medical team starting tomorrow at Kuakini Medical Center.

Hirano's family had moved to Japan from Hawaii and lived in Hiroshima about two miles from the bombing.

"My father was killed. My grandfather on my mother's side was killed. My brother-in-law also was killed," he said. "My mother was hurt. My brother, younger brother, wasn't hurt too much."

Hirano moved back to Hawaii in 1949. His sister, brother and mother followed later.

"Staying in Japan was hopeless," he said. "We lost our house. Nothing was left."

Survivors bear emotional and physical scars, with higher-than-average incidences of cancer, tumors, anemia, cataracts and high blood pressure.

"I have problems but I survive," Hirano said.

Reflecting on the Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bombings, Hirano said, "Those days, the war, you know.

"That's a really bad experience; some people cannot forget."

He said he has some bitterness, but, "I try not to keep it."

Hirano is vice president of the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bomb Survivors and president of the Hawaii chapter.

The society is coordinating the Hiroshima medical team's visit. The group arrived here yesterday from Los Angeles, where they conducted the 13th medical examination for A-bomb survivors.

This is the 10th year for examinations in Hawaii, Hirano said.

The team has five doctors who are familiar with illnesses that may be related to radiation exposure. A medical record can be established with the examination, and medical assistance can be sought in Japan.

Traveling with the doctors is an interviewer from the Radiation Effects Research Foundation who will talk to all new participants about where they were at the time of the bombing to estimate the amount of radiation exposure.

A representative from the Hiroshima prefectural government office is with the team to provide information and help in obtaining the A-bomb survivor "techo," or handbook.

The survivors society wants to contact A-bomb survivors who have never participated in any of the examinations, and assures confidentiality.

Eligible survivors are legally defined in Japan as those within city limits when the bombs fell, went into the city two weeks after they fell, were in contact with other survivors while caring for them or were present at the bombings as an "in utero" baby.

Hirano said the medical team's visit here is part of a biennial program that started in 1977 as a humanitarian gesture to provide physical and psychological assistance to A-bomb survivors in the United States.

In the beginning, one team took care of Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, then came to Honolulu, Hirano said.

Now, two teams conduct the exams, one going to Los Angeles and Hawaii, and the second, next month, to San Francisco and Seattle, he said.

Hirano said about 150 A-bomb survivors have been identified in Hawaii. Many are U.S. citizens born in Hawaii or on the mainland.

He said 90 to 100 participate in the examinations every two years, with 90 already registered for an exam in the next three days.

Others are encouraged to register so they can be informed about special projects, such as the examinations, and about procedures for applying to obtain a "techo."

Some survivors may be invited to Hiroshima for treatment, Hirano said.

Mae Oda, a friend of A-bomb survivors, is helping to coordinate the examinations, starting at 8 a.m., he said.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association started the medical missions in response to requests from survivors in the United States.

Support for the program also has been provided by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare, Hiroshima prefectural government, Hiroshima city, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation and the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Casualty Council.

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