Over the past 17 years, Japanese doctor Tadashi Hattori has become a friend to many visually-impaired patients in remote and disadvantaged areas of Vietnam.
Doctor Hattori exams an elderly patient during his trip to Binh Phuoc province in October 2019 (Source: Hoai Sakura's Facebook)
Realising that many poor patients could not afford treatment in major hospitals in Hanoi, the 55-year-old ophthalmologist started travelling to these areas to conduct free surgery, bringing light to over 15,000 patients.
Doctor Hattori, born in Osaka, graduated from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, one of the eight most prestigious universities in Japan.
After that, he was invited to work in many renowned hospitals in his country.
He decided to be a doctor at the age of 15 after witnessing the cold, irresponsible behaviour of medical staff in the hospital that caused his father’s death.
Hattori studied hard at university and even at work. Now he is a highly-skilled ophthalmologist who can perform 20 to 30 cataract surgeries or 6 to 8 vitrectomies per day – a highly technical procedure.
The Japanese doctor is also among the few specialists capable of shortening surgery time to one third through the use of endoscopy.
Hattori could have easily found a well-paid job in Japan, but he decided to leave everything behind to concentrate on charity work. He considers the main purpose of medicine is helping others, not making money.
His life changed when he met a Vietnamese doctor at a scientific conference in 2001, who suggested he should go to Vietnam.
“He told me there were many poor patients in Vietnam who could not afford medical treatment. Some were in danger of going blind, even in middle age,” he recalled.
Half a year later, in April 2002, he decided to resign from the hospital he was working at to embark on his charity journey to Vietnam, a country completely new to him.
On his first visit to Vietnam, he spent a month recording everything related to the situation of eye patients who were too poor to pay for medical treatment around the country.
After returning to Japan, he called for sponsorship from medical companies but was turned down because he no longer worked for a hospital.
He then submitted a proposal for assistance to the Japanese government but was told they only supported non-governmental organisations.
In the end, he decided to use all the savings that he and his wife had set aside for their retirement to buy equipment to perform free surgeries in Vietnam.
“After I told her, my wife was so angry and did not talk to me for three days,” he recalled.
But Hattori’s kindness and big heart won her over. From being angry, his wife gradually understood and supported him wholeheartedly.
Since the fateful meeting in 2001, his life has been divided into two. He spends half the year in Japan working as a freelance ophthalmologist to earn money, and then he comes back to Vietnam.
His call for financial aid was finally answered by his friends and the community back home, and he managed to raise funds to donate to the public hospitals and private clinics where he works part time.
“Treating Japanese patients is much easier because they immediately consult their doctors as soon as they have health problems, so the disease is usually in the early stages,” Hattori said.
“Vietnamese patients only resort to doctors when they are nearly blind. That's why the number of blind patients in Vietnam is unexpectedly much higher than in other places I have been to,” he added.
Hattori is now working as an executive director for the Asia - Pacific Prevention of Blindness Association that he established in 2005 to support cataract patients.
All medical examination, treatment costs, as well as lenses and surgical instruments are paid for from his own savings and the organisation.
Hattori’s dedication to charity work has been highly appreciated by both the Vietnamese and Japanese governments.
He was awarded with the Medal for People’s Health by the Vietnamese government in 2006, the title The Person Bringing Japan to the World by the Japanese cabinet in 2012, and a certificate of merit from the Japanese foreign minister in 2013.
In 2014, he received a friendship medal for his dedication to the prevention of blindness in Vietnam.
But according to Doctor Hoang Van Chinh from Quang Yen Hospital in Quang Ninh province where Hattori treated for nearly 1,000 patients, his most significant contribution is his transfer of experience and knowledge to local doctors.
In every disadvantaged local hospital that he has been to, he has also called for financial support to purchase new specialised equipment to supplement the facilities.
“Thanks to that, even when Hattori could not travel, local hospitals were still able to treat poor patients using high-tech equipment and modern techniques,” he said./.VNS
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