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Family says man with disability in central Japan died of COVID after poor hospital care

Yuui Fujisawa speaks about his older brother Daichi, who died after contracting the coronavirus, during an interview in the city of Shizuoka's Aoi Ward on Feb. 24, 2022. (Mainichi/Shota Kaneko)

SHIZUOKA -- A 24-year-old man with a severe intellectual disability died four days after he was sent to hospital with COVID-19 and then returned home without sufficient examination or treatment, his family told the Mainichi Shimbun on March 9.

    Although about three weeks have passed since his death, the Shizuoka City Shizuoka Hospital says it is "currently confirming the situation," and has not given the bereaved family a clear explanation. The hospital has not responded to a Mainichi Shimbun inquiry, instead commenting, "Though not specified in protocol, we decided we should not disclose information now."

    Daichi Fujisawa was a resident of the city of Shizuoka's Aoi Ward. He died in mid-February. On the evening of Feb. 12, he had a severe fever of over 40 degrees Celsius. Seeing Daichi in a half-conscious state and his face flushed, his younger brother Yuui, 23, called an ambulance which sent him to the Shizuoka City Shizuoka Hospital.

    Daichi Fujisawa, left, and his younger brother Yuui are seen in this photo provided by Yuui Fujisawa.

    Upon arrival, Daichi took a PCR test and waited in a room. Because Daichi fell from his wheelchair and was self-harming by banging his head on the floor, Yuui knocked on the room's door and called a nurse. Although a resident physician gave Daichi an antipyretic, he did not receive any specific treatment, and after being left alone for two hours the doctor told Yuui that Daichi was positive for the coronavirus.

    The doctor then urged that Daichi be returned home to recuperate, primarily on the grounds that his blood oxygen saturation levels as indicated by a pulse oximeter were within the standard range, among other reasons. Pulse oximeters cannot make accurate measurements if removed from the finger while the results are still fluctuating. According to Yuui, his brother removed the device in front of the nurse just a few seconds after measurements began. His severe intellectual disability meant he also could not accurately convey his symptoms to the doctor or nurse.

    After returning home, Yuui gave his full attention to nursing his brother. He sat by his bed, and would stroke his head and tell him, "It's going to be OK, I hope it gets better today." Daichi's fever rose and fell during this period.

    On the morning of Feb. 16, Yuui noticed his brother's face had suddenly drained of color. He checked for breathing, but there was no response. After hastily calling an ambulance and while waiting for medical crew to arrive, he repeatedly performed a cardiac massage on his brother. Although Daichi was taken to the Shizuoka Hospital's intensive care unit, he was confirmed dead on the spot.

    Daichi lived with Yuui and their father. When listening to his favorite music, he would wave and raise his voice. He liked cars, and often went driving with his younger brother. "His smile was dazzling. Whatever the situation, I put my brother first," Yuui said. He continued with tears in his eyes, saying, "When I come home, my brother isn't there. I can't hear his voice. The whole house is quiet. When I go to his room, his laughter and memories come back to me. But my brother is no longer here. I can't put the feeling into words."

    "After he first went to hospital by ambulance, he was neglected and only given medicine. Had they examined him, maybe the result would have been different," said Yuui, whose anger toward the hospital's response is intensifying his sadness.

    "I think I'm aware how hard the situation for medical institutions is now. But, neglecting care in the world of nursing is equivalent to abuse. I'd like the hospital to reconsider how they view human lives," he said.

    (Japanese original by Shota Kaneko, Shizuoka Bureau)

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