By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Japanese surgeon, who works in Pittsburgh as a transplant researcher, was called on as part of a Japanese medical disaster team.

The team of two doctors, two nurses and a pharmacist took care of people in need in the area hit hardest.

Dr. Atsunori Nakao didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in his home country to help after the earthquake and tsunami.

After a 12-hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo, he couldn’t get to the countryside where people needed help. The trains weren’t running.

A friend picked him up, but had to wait five hours for a tank of gas.

They drove nearly 200 miles in the snow to a school that had become a shelter for 1,500 people, huddled in blankets.

“As far as I know, more than 200,000 in shelters without heat, without power,” says Dr. Nakao.

There was no running water and no food.

“Just giving us the one rice bowl in the morning, one rice bowl in the evening. No meat. No fish at all,” he said.

There were many older people. Some had high blood pressure, diabetes and infections because of the unsanitary conditions.

He had no medicine – only a bag of Hershey’s chocolates. Despite the hopelessness, they peacefully stood in line.

“They were always thinking about older people and kids. That was amazing. There was not any violence. I didn’t see anyone shouting or angry or nothing,” he described.

Medicine arrived the next day, but all the medicine in the world couldn’t fix the anguish.

“People sort of lost everything immediately,” Dr. Nakao said. “Families, kids, everything.”

When the American Army came, he served as a translator. “They brought food, or toys, or water. They helped a lot.”

Dr. Nakao was there for a week and even got sick himself. When it was time to go, he wished he could have done more. “My heart is very…that’s painful. That’s all.”

He expects conditions have improved, but believes help is still needed. The donations can be applied to food, medicine, shelter, or whatever need is greatest at the time.

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