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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor battles with illness to continue passing on his story

NAGASAKI -- At the end of October, atomic-bomb survivor Masahito Hirose, 85, was continuing to undergo rehabilitation treatment for swallowing at Nagasaki University Hospital. Aimed at restoring his natural ability to swallow, the rehabilitation work involved repeatedly inserting and removing a tube in his throat. While undergoing this exercise, he coughed again and again with tears appearing in his eyes.

    Since undergoing surgery for an aortic aneurysm two and a half years ago, he has been unable to speak easily, preventing him from telling his story to students visiting on field trips. His desire to resume giving the talks motivates him to work on this rehabilitation.

    In May this year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in late July he was hospitalized at Nagasaki University Hospital, where he received radiation therapy. In early September, after leaving the hospital, he suffered heavy fatigue. Attributing his exhaustion to the radiation therapy, he likens his experience to that of A-bomb survivors who experienced fatigue symptoms from their radiation exposure. He also has the visible aftereffects of internal bleeding in his IV-fed, thinning arms that are painful to see.

    Dentist Shinya Mikushi, 37, has been Hirose's primary doctor for his swallowing therapy during his hospitalization. In order to boost Hirose's spirits, he gathered hospital staff to hear Hirose's A-bomb stories. While Hirose can no longer tell his story for around an hour like he used to, he instead offers commentary while young dentistry staff read aloud his stories that he wrote.

    Hirose's experience on Aug. 9, 1945, the day of the bombing, was read out by dentist Haruka Matsue, 28, at the hospital as part of her training. That day, while at a factory office around 4.8 kilometers from the blast hypocenter, Hirose saw a flash of blue light, then heard the ground rumble. He saw a massive cloud in the sky in the direction of the hypocenter.

    His aunt spent days searching for his missing cousin before coming down with a heavy fever. She bled from her nose and her gums, and her hair fell out. She died calling out her son's name.

    Hirose expressed his feelings about passing on his experience: "When A-bomb survivors speak about their experiences, they put their life on the line. I want those who listen to likewise have the readiness of someone about to exchange sword blows. When sparks fall from those clashing swords, I sense that the feelings of the A-bomb survivors have been passed on a little."

    Matsue, who has lived in Nagasaki for nine years, says with tears in her eyes, "By being the reader, the story really got to me." After reading the story, she visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum for the first time.

    Hirose hopes he can resume presenting his story to students, if schools will accept a format where they read in his place. Hirose says that, as he saw many A-bomb survivors talking about their experiences from his sick bed this summer, he felt, "Those who experienced the bomb must continue to speak out, as long as they still live."

    (This is part five of a six-part series)

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