Posted by: viaprograms | December 22, 2009

Exploring Heath Care (EHC) Participant Promotes Discussion on Organ Transplantation in Japan

Ai Isohisa, Exploring Heath Care (EHC) participant from 2009, shares how the program changed her opinions and inspired her to act.

Ai Isohisa on during the 2009 program

Former EHC Program Director (left), Abby McDaniel, and Ai pose in their lab coats.

How did you become interested in the topic of organ donation?
In preparing for the Exploring Heath Care program (EHC), I discovered many differences between health care in Japan and the United States. And I felt that I had to change some of weak points of the Japanese health care system. One the weak points I identified was organ donorship. On the EHC program, I presented on the topic of Japanese organ transplant with some participants. I explained how few organ donors are in Japan. At the time I felt, this Japanese situation was a pity, but I thought it couldn’t be helped. I had also been scared of becoming an organ donor.

What changed your mind on the subject?
A presentation by Isabel Stenzel Byrnes during EHC. She told us her story; how she could gain a wonderful life through her double lung transplant. It was shocking for me. I had never tried to imagine the recipients’ perspective; I thought only about my fear of becoming a donor. I noticed that we must learn about the facts of organ donation before deciding to be against it. Then I began to think about becoming an organ donor. Isabel and her story had a big impression on me.

What did you do with this change of opinion when you returned home to Japan?
After I came back to Japan, I wanted to share my feeling with my friends. I could tell them what happened in Stanford in my mind, but this would have less impact than their meeting Isabel and directly hearing her story. So when I heard from Kazutoh that the miracle twins would come to Japan,I decided to invite them to my university, Kobe University, to give a speech.

How did the event go?
Isabel Stenzel Byrnes and her twin sister who also received a lung transplant, Anabel Stenzel, told their story of organ transplants and the situation of organ donorship in Japanese. More than 80 people were in the audience. Many of them were medical students, but also doctors, nurses, medical staff, and a news reporter came. After the speech, I discussed about organ donation with my friends who heard the twin’s speech. They had many different reactions. Some had positive opinions, but others had negative opinions. There were many difficult emotions and beliefs about whether people are still alive when their brains stop working. But they had begun to think about the issue more deeply than before. I think that it was a big step.

How do your efforts to raise awareness fit into the current situation of organ donation in Japan?

We Japanese already have the right to become donors, but many of us are just against becoming organ donors without learning about the facts of organ donation, just the same as me before meeting Isabel on the EHC program. I guess many people would become organ donors if they knew about how wonderful organ donation is for the recipient. This is the time to rethink about it, because the Japanese parliament recently relaxed the standards on organ donation, changing the law to allow children under age 15 to give and receive organs.

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