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Hibakusha: 72-yr-old exposed to A-bomb radiation in womb losing words to dementia

Kimie Kishi smiles while eating her favorite sweets, in Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture, on April 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

MIYOSHI, Hiroshima-- While 72-year-old Kimie Kishi, who was born with deformities due to radiation exposure after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, used to love chatting for hours, her worsening dementia is stealing away her words.

When I visited Kishi in mid-April at the care facility where she lives in the city of Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture, there was a vacant look in her eyes as she sat in her wheelchair.

"Earlier, she had an episode of allotriophagy," Kishi's 42-year-old daughter who cares for her explained. During tea time, a staff member found Kishi trying to eat a fake flower that she put in her coffee. Her dementia had progressed much further than I had expected.

Kishi was exposed to radiation from close to the epicenter of the Hiroshima bombing inside her mother's womb, and she was born with microcephaly. Since she first agreed to an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in 2005, Kishi has activity worked to raise social awareness of the difficulties facing those with microcephaly, as well as calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The run-down tenement apartment complex where Kishi had lived up until the summer of 2014 will soon be torn down due to the deterioration of the building. "There is an amazing amount of stuff in the apartment, so we need to clear it out as soon as possible," Kishi's daughter said. "Before we knew it, everyone had moved out, and now there is no one living there anymore."

Kishi had lived alone in that apartment surrounded by her belongings. She spent her days lying on the nursing care bed that took up almost half of her room, and when night came, perhaps out of loneliness, there were times when she would call me up and we would talk for an hour or more. While covering her experiences, she would come to meet me dragging her legs, deformed from the time she was born from exposure to the radiation of the Hiroshima bombing, relying on her cane to walk. We would get absorbed in our conversations, sometimes laughing and others crying together.

Even when I mentioned those times to Kishi when we met in April, she didn't show any interest, eyes just darting about looking around her.

"I didn't think my mother would be affected by dementia this early..." Her daughter said, tears rolling down her cheeks. "There are moments when she returns to being lucid, though."

Kishi's daughter is due to give birth this June. When they were out shopping several days earlier, while looking at baby clothes in front of a shop, she was surprised when her mother said with clarity, "I should buy it for you," in the Hiroshima dialect. She also says that there are times when Kishi chats with employees at a supermarket where they are long-time customers.

When I asked Kishi about the baby her daughter will give birth to soon, her expression brightened, and she was able to get a few words out. While rubbing her daughter's belly, she said happily, "There's a baby." When her daughter told her, "You have to be healthy for me. Because you have to hold the baby," a smile spread across Kishi's face.

Kishi wishes that children like her affected by radiation exposure will never be born again, and when she came across news of nuclear bomb tests, she became extremely upset. Now, though, for better or worse , it seems that her mind is at peace.

(This is the final part in a series.)

(Japanese original by Hiroko Tanaka, Osaka Cultural News Department)

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