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Brighton resident studying at BC travels to native Japan to aid relief efforts

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  May 5, 2011 01:42 PM

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(Courtesy: Boston College)

Brighton resident and BC doctoral student Nahoko Harada tends to a patient at an emergency shelter in Japan.

The following is a shortened version of a story from the Boston College Office of News and Public Affairs that is scheduled for publication in the Boston College Chronicle's May 12 edition:

When a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit her home country of Japan in March, Brighton resident and Boston College doctoral student Nahoko Harada, a nurse practitioner with training in adult acute care and trauma, knew she had to act.

“I’m comfortable in the center of a disaster,” said Harada who is enrolled in BC’s Connell School of Nursing. “It’s more stressful for me not to go and contribute.”

Harada traveled as the only nurse with a group of three physicians, two Japanese and one American, from Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Her group--dubbed Team America--was on the ground in Japan by March 14, just days after the earthquake and tsunami struck. Harada was ultimately stationed at the Hashigami Junior High School in Kesennuma which served as a shelter for some 1500 evacuated people. There was no running water, only generator-powered electricity and limited food. They could not conduct lab work and did not have an EKG. Harada stayed at the shelter until Mar. 19 and then returned for a second tour Mar. 23 to 28.

Harada said the scene in Japan was “devastating.” But she was struck by how the disaster did not change the spirit and essence of the Japanese people. “I was amazed at how strongly united everyone in the shelter was. No one was complaining.”

Harada said that Japanese people are known for their reserved and careful nature. “The feeling is that ‘I should behave with care because if I act selfishly it will cause trouble for others.’ We always consider others.”

Since those with life-threatening or major injuries had already been treated or evacuated in the critical hours after the earthquake, Harada said her team saw patients with minor injuries and chronic, pre-existing conditions, like hypertension or asthma, that were becoming troublesome due to limited medications, undesirable conditions and the traumatic experience. All the while, the medical staff and evacuees were experiencing powerful and terrifying aftershocks.

Two physicians Harada worked with did not speak Japanese so she served as a translator, taking patient histories and making assessments and then presenting to the doctors.

The fuel shortage prevented many people from reaching the medical centers and shelters, so Harada’s team set out into the community to find people stranded in their villages or in smaller shelters in temples or shrines.

Harada said that with the damaged infrastructure long-term health concerns will be public hygiene, pediatric care, mental health support, influenza prevention and care for the elderly with chronic conditions.

During Harada’s visit she was able to check on her family, including her mother, who lives in the coastal city of Chiba, and her two sisters, who live in Tokyo. All were safe and unharmed. Harada also was interviewed by Japanese media about the relief efforts.

Harada received her bachelor’s degree from St. Luke’s College of Nursing in Japan. She came to the United States in 2004 to pursue advanced studies in nursing, with the goal of being a nurse practitioner. After earning a master’s degree from University of Pennsylvania, Harada moved to Brighton and enrolled in the Connell School’s doctoral program.

When asked what she would tell those from outside of Japan about the disaster, Harada replies, “Please don’t forget Japan. The situation is improved but not recovered. It will take decades for Japan to recover. There are still 12,000 people missing and families are looking for them.

“Also, not all the victims are radioactive. The media is focusing on the nuclear plants, but many parts were not affected by this.”

The unexpected trip to Japan did derail Harada’s studies. She was planning to take comprehensive exams in May, but now will have to wait until fall. Coursework for this semester will need to be made up too. But Harada has no regrets. “I’m Japanese. I’m a nurse. I have to care for the people.”

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(Courtesy: Boston College)

A line-up of emergency vehicles photographed by Nahoko Harada during her recent journey to Japan to help with relief efforts there.

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(Courtesy: Boston College)

From left to right, "Team America": Dr. Takashi Shiga of Massachusetts General Hospital; Nahoko Harada; Dr. N. Stuart Harris of MGH; and Dr. Kohei Hasegawa of MGH. Seated: Shota Miura of Japan who helped them at the shelter.

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