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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Japan Reflection April 21, 2011

Bascom Palmer Vision Van in Japan
Bascom Palmer Vision Van in Japan

I arrived in Sendai after an 8 hour flight from Anchorage. I could not see anything from the air because we had only a 12 inch diameter porthole in the back of the plane to look through and I had to be seated for landing.

Upon landing, we were met by Dr. Kazuo Tsubota, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology of Keio University School of Medicine, and his staff and many airport officials to inspect the plane, from quarantine, from customs, etc. Mine was the first international flight and I was the first international passenger since the re-opening of the Sendai airport to commercial traffic following the tsunami. The airport was a priority and it was cleared immediately by the Japanese and US military.

I was whisked off to a make-shift immigration office while the plane was being lowered to the ground and its “nose” was opened up to allow the vision van to be driven out of the front of the plane. By the time I was back, Japanese media representatives had already assembled.

Dr. Kurosaka, from Iwate University School of Medicine- one of the most damaged areas, sent a pediatric ophthalmologist who wanted very much to help, Dr. Michiko Tanaka. Dr. Tanaka’s father, Dr. Hitoshi Tanaka was an ophthalmologist who died right after the tsunami. She caught a bus for two hours last night to join us for dinner and then to go with us this morning with the Vision Van to areas she is familiar with. Although she was personally devastated, it was really inspiring to see how she wanted very much to do this to help her people even during her personal grief.

The people here are handling this with amazing dignity and perserverance. The photos of damage are in some of the lesser damaged areas on the highway from the airport to Tohoku University in the middle of downtown Sendai.

I had a terrific dinner last night with Kazuo – he has been a terrific host. He is full of energy, running with many ideas for a possible vision van of their own, future projects, ideas on outreach for clinical care, etc. I think this will be a very positive experince for ophthalmology in Japan. They mentioned this was an out of the box idea for them. More when I have a chance. Took lots of photos but have to get prepared for another long day. They decided it would be helpful for me to stay longer, so I am catching a midnight bus into Shinjuku, Tokyo and then checking in at around 5 a.m. for a meeting and off to the airport.

Richard Lee, MD, PhD

Glaucoma Specialist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute