Survivors of atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, were given free medical exams at Pacific Medical Centers this weekend as part of a long-term study. Japanese doctors examined the survivors and are studying the aftereffects of atomic radiation.
The burns on Yasuko Carter’s arms haunted her through her teens, when she was too embarrassed to wear short sleeves and reveal skin ravaged by radiation.
Now 74, the Hiroshima survivor is struggling with more recent effects from intense radiation exposure: lung and breast cancer.
On Aug. 6 each year, the anniversary of the day U.S. forces dropped an atomic bomb on her city in Japan, she is frightened once again.
“Sometimes, I get mad, what happened to my body,” said Carter, now of Bremerton.
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She was one of dozens of elderly Japanese at the Pacific Medical Centers Beacon Hill clinic Saturday who came for medical exams available for Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic-bomb survivors and their children.
Since 1977, Japanese doctors have given free medical exams every other year to survivors of the bomb blasts, and they are chronicling the effects as part of a long-term study. About 50 people were expected in Seattle on Saturday and today, including some who traveled from British Columbia.
When the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, more than 200,000 people died in the blasts or immediately after. About 340,000 survivors are still alive, with 60 or so in Washington state.
Survivors, who have an average age of 74.5, suffer more from hypertension, tend to have a higher rate of breast cancer, and also have thyroid and gastrointestinal problems, said Linda Eremic, director of operations for Pacific Medical Centers. They also suffer from exhaustion and memory loss.
At the clinic Saturday, signs in Japanese were posted in hallways, labeling exam rooms for internal medicine, gynecology and electrocardiograms. A bus carrying survivors arrived from Vancouver, B.C. Japanese doctors and staffers greeted people at a sign-in table.
Henry Taniguchi, now 86, was getting ready for work the day the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, after air-raid sirens had kept him up until 4 a.m. Everyone at his office died.
He had ulcers for years afterward and suffered emotionally for a long time, he said.
But Taniguchi, who lives in Seattle, said the bombing doesn’t bother him anymore. He also is free of cancer and healthy.
“I’m kind of lucky, I guess,” he said.
Carter is applying to the Japanese government to get medical benefits that are available to survivors and would help her with chemotherapy and radiation.
She was 9 years old and at school the day the bomb fell. She looked up and saw three B-29 planes buzz by. She wondered why there were no sirens.
The blast from the bomb that fell about one kilometer away threw her across the room. Her clothes burned off her left arm and leg. She had burns on her face.
She ran into the street, where people cried for help, and found her parents.
When planes flew over the next day, they hid. They later learned the planes were taking pictures of the devastation.
“So many people died,” she said.
Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org