Mourning for Dr. Masato Yukutake, physician for Iranian poison gas sufferers

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer

In early March I visited Dr. Masato Yukutake in his sickbed. “I’m grateful for the enthusiastic welcomes I’ve received in Iran,” said Dr. Yukutake. “I wish, though, that I could do more for the Iranian people by making use of my experience of the patients who suffered from poison gas on Ohkunoshima Island.” The regret in his voice, as he looked back on his three visits to Iran, still lingers in my ear. “Clinical research is needed in Iran. I can no longer help so I must trust that the next generation will carry on with this work.”

Dr. Yukutake devoted himself to treating the victims of a poison gas factory on Ohkunoshima Island and other places. A year ago, when I interviewed him at the Tadanoumi branch of Kure Kyosai Hospital, I noticed a clock hanging above the doorway of his office, indicating the time in Iran. “When I leave for home in the evening,” he explained, “I imagine how people in Tehran may be having lunch.”

Dr. Yukutake became involved with the plight of poison gas sufferers in Iran when he was asked, in 2004, to give a lecture at a study session held by MOCT, a Hiroshima-based NPO. The next year he visited Iran for the first time and went to villages that had been attacked with mustard gas by the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War. He found no doctors and no medical equipment in those remote villages.

“The first thing that must be done is examine the patients continuously and accumulate data on their conditions,” he persistently appealed while in Iran. He appeared on Iranian TV to present the cases of poison gas on Ohkunoshima Island and unfailingly took part in the teaching of Iranian doctors visiting Hiroshima. Last summer, he even lectured while using an oxygen mask due to his illness.

His anger against the inhuman nature of war and weapons, and his sympathy for the sufferers they produce, were evidently the driving forces of his life. At the hospital in Tadanoumi, he treated about 4200 poison gas sufferers from Ohkunoshima Island. The number of poison gas sufferers in Iran is estimated at 50,000.

“Dr. Yukutake raised worldwide awareness of the Iranian victims of poison gas. His achievements are remarkable,” said Shahriar Khateri, 38, a doctor of the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support in Tehran. His mournful tone seemed to suggest he had lost a long-time colleague.

Dr. Masato Yukutake passed away on March 26. He was 74 years old.

(Originally published on April 7, 2009)

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