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Japanese volunteer helps stroke patients

Update: February, 05/2018 - 07:00
Handy: Iizuka Kazuhiro makes hand exercise tools at the Prosthetics and Orthotics Workshop at Thanh Hóa Nursing – Rehabilitation Central Hospital. — VNS Photo Bảo Hoa
Viet Nam News

Bảo Hoa
HÀ NỘI — Thanh Hóa Province and Shizuoka Prefecture have one thing in common: they are both near the sea. This is the reason Iizuka Kazuhiro, a occupational therapist born and raised in the southern Japanese coastal province, chose to move to the central province in Việt Nam as a volunteer.

Having worked at the Stroke Centre at Nishijima Hospital in Shizuoka Prefecture for seven years, Kazuhiro came to Việt Nam in March 2017 to volunteer at the Thanh Hóa Nursing - Rehabilitation Central Hospital through a volunteer programme run by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

Working at the Department of Clinical - Rehabilitation, the 29-year-old is helping patients with brain injuries to restore their functional ability.

Kazuhiro first became interested in working overseas during a trip to Cambodia, where he saw the first-aid methods used in road accidents there - and saw many people with disabilities living on the streets.

“I wanted to know more about the medical sectors and rehabilitation methods in developing countries,” he said.

It works: A patient does finger exercises using a hand-exercise tool made by Iizuka Kazuhiro. — VNS Photo Bảo Hoa

Kazuhiro’s daily job involves instructing patients with physical exercises to recover their functional ability and daily living activities, and tracking their improvement.

As most Vietnamese use motorbikes, the number of patients suffering from paralysis as the result of brain injuries from road accidents in Việt Nam is relatively higher than in Japan, he said.

There is a big difference in the rehabilitation processes of the two countries, he added.

“Rehabilitation methods in Việt Nam are limited to muscle massaging and joint exercises,” he said. “A lot of patients are not able to return to work, and have to return to the hospital several times for further treatment,” he said.

“In Japan we aim to help patients take care of themselves and get back to a normal life,” he said.

Language is the biggest obstacle for Kazuhiro as he can speak only a little Vietnamese. “Work never exhausts me, but sometimes I feel helpless as I can’t explain to my patients exactly what I want them to do,” he said.

The way back: Instructing a stroke patient how to do arm exercises. — VNS Photo Bảo Hoa

But his patients understand him fine. Trịnh Thu Hằng, 13, who suffers from hemiplegia after a road accident a month ago, said Iizuka was “very friendly and thoughtful”. (Hemiplegia is a condition that affects one side of the body. It is caused by injury to parts of the brain that control movements of the limbs, trunk, face).

“He instructed me carefully with the exercises, and never lost his patience,” she said.

Kazuhiro’s presence also helps to reduce pressure on the rehabilitation department, whose patients range from 20 to 40 but has only two nurses and no occupational therapist.

He introduced the department to the Brunnstrom Approach which sets out a sequence of stages of recovery from hemiplegia after a stroke, and the Barthel scale, which is a scale used to measure performance in activities of daily living. 

“We rate patients’ improvements based on those scales,” said Cao Thị Hiền, a department nurse. “They help us evaluate their levels of recovery in a more precise manner. From this, we can set clearer exercise objectives and plans for them.”

Helping hand: Occupational therapist Iizuka Kazuhiro helps a patient with hemiplegia do hand exercises. — VNS Photo Bảo Hoa

Apart from modern equipment, lying around the rehabilitation room are simple hand-exercise tools, some of them made by Kazuhiro from everyday items such as bottle caps, coat hangers and carton boxes.

He first attempted to make the tools after he was overcharged by providers of medical equipment.

“They charged me VNĐ1-2 million (US$44-88) for simple hand-exercise equipment,” he said. “So I tried to make a simplified version of it, which cost only VNĐ100,000,” he said.

Tống Văn Truyền, an orthopaedic technician, said the tools were “actually very practical and creative.”

“They received positive feedback from several patients,” he said.

As a volunteer, Kazuhiro stays at a staff accommodation block inside the hospital. Outside work, he likes hanging out with his co-workers, who invite him to dinner a lot, he said.

“I even had a beer with my patients once,” he said.

The Japanese volunteer has no plans when his volunteer period ends in March next year, but working overseas is still on his wish-list.

“If that’s not possible, I would like to return to work at Nishijima Hospital to share what I have learned in Việt Nam,” he said. — VNS

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