Friday, March 18, 2011

Assisting in Japan

After the earthquake

Strangers nod to each other 

As if family"

a haiku


On March 11, the northeast coast of Japan suffered a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and destructive tsunami, resulting in the deaths of 5,178 people to date, more than 8,600 missing and the evacuation of 380,000 Japanese from the devastated areas. Many have been left homeless in freezing weather with limited food, water and electricity.

While the MGH and other hospitals await the call for medical assistance from the Japanese government, three MGH Emergency Services physicians already have traveled to the country to offer their support. N. Stuart Harris Jr., MD, MFA, FACEP, director of the Wilderness Medicine Fellowship of the Emergency Department; Takashi Shiga, MD, Emergency Medicine fellow; and Kohei Hasegawa, MD, Emergency Medicine resident, arrived in Tokyo on March 14 to work with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team of the Tokushukai Hospital Group.

Three days into their deployment, the group headed to Kesennuma, a village destroyed by fires  during the tsunami. In a phone interview, Harris explained that they were prepared to handle a wide array of cases, ranging from water-related injuries to blunt-force or penetrating trauma. He also said that there may be cases associated with the lack of resources, such as food and clean drinking water.

All three of the MGH physicians speak Japanese, including Harris, who lived in Iwate-ken for two years in the late 1980s. "Thanks to the tremendous willingness of our MGH Emergency Department colleagues who offered coverage, we are able to be here to help as much as we can," says Harris. "We really appreciate their understanding and the hospital's readiness to help the Japanese people."

During this time, the MGH remains on standby and ready to respond with volunteers in the event assistance is requested, according to Susan Briggs, MD, co-director of the Office of Disaster Response



in the MGH Center for Global Health, director of the International Trauma and Disaster Institute at MGH and founder of the International Medical Surgical Response Team. "We want to be available for anything they need."

In addition to dealing with the destruction from the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese are dealing with the country's compromised nuclear reactors, which have been overheating due to disabled cooling systems. 

"We're watching the Daichi nuclear plant very closely," adds Harris, who, along with Shiga and Hasegawa, is approximately 200 km north of the plant.

"We are extremely proud of our MGH physicians now in Japan," says Alasdair Conn, MD, chief of Emergency Medicine. "I see this as part of our emergency department mission. Drs. Harris, Shiga and Hasegawa each have areas of expertise sorely needed following the earthquake and tsunami, and we support their decision to use their skills and expertise for the benefit of the citizens of Japan."

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