Japanese doctor Hattori Tadashi originally only planned to spend a single three months in Vietnam when he visited the country in 2002. That ‘three months’ wound up impacting the next 20 years of his life, during which time he helped nearly 20,000 blind Vietnamese regain their sight.
Tadashi’s work was honored this past Wednesday at the Japanese Embassy in Vietnam where he, along with three other individuals, was presented with the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2022 – an honor widely regarded as the ‘Nobel Peace Prize of Asia.’
Over the past two decades, Tadashi has performed thousands of eye surgeries and treated over 20,000 Vietnamese patients at risk of going blind forever, all without asking for anything in return.
Spending life savings on blind Vietnamese
Tadashi made plans to visit Vietnam in October 2001 after meeting a Vietnamese eye doctor at a conference hosted by the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine.
|Doctor Hattori Tadashi and a patient on his first days in Vietnam. Photo: Courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award organizer|
The Vietnamese doctor asked Tadashi to join him in performing eye surgeries on underprivileged patients in the Southeast Asian country.
Just six months later, Tadashi quit his job and hopped on a plane to Vietnam, planning to spend just three months healing blind Vietnamese.
“I was shocked to see many patients who are blind in one eye go to the hospital only when the retina in the other eye became detached, or when they had other issues that might have caused their loss of vision," Tadashi said at the ceremony on Wednesday evening.
“Many patients refused because they couldn’t afford it.
“It broke my heart that I couldn’t help everyone because there was a shortage of surgical supplies and equipment.”
After his three-month charity trip in Vietnam, Tadashi returned to Japan and attempted to garner support from a medical equipment company, but he was turned away because he no longer worked for a hospital.
With nowhere else to turn, he asked his wife to let him use the savings they had set aside to buy an apartment to help heal blind Vietnamese.
“I told my wife that I could live in a rented house, but my patients would be blind without early surgeries," Tadashi recalled.
“Our savings were enough to buy modern ophthalmic endoscopes and medical equipment to help more than 2,000 patients each year, as well as perform complicated surgeries."
|Doctor Hattori Tadashi (first row, center) poses for a photo with guests at a ceremony to congratulate him on receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award on October 26, 2022. Photo: Duy Linh / Tuoi Tre|
With his wife’s approval, Tadashi took their savings and returned to Vietnam for a second time, ready to help as many blind people as possible.
Working hard in Japan to help in Vietnam
After exhausting his savings, Tadashi returned to work in Japan where he worked as a freelance doctor, performing as many surgeries as possible in hospitals throughout the country in order to save up enough money to buy an apartment for himself and medical equipment for his Vietnamese patients.
Bento boxes in convenience stores and overnight train journeys became part of Tadashi’s daily life as he worked to grow his savings.
“When I was a child, I loved trains a lot. When I was an elementary school student, I also dreamed of becoming a train driver,” the doctor shared.
Over the years, Tadashi continued returning to rural Vietnam to examine patients, perform surgeries, and treat cataract issues. These charity trips have served as an inspiration to five other doctors and many staff members who have joined his team.
“The number of medical operations performed by my group has exceeded 100,000. I believe that once a person is trained, they can help many others," Tadashi said.
“I hope my students do better than me, so I work hard to train young doctors.
“Sometimes there are disagreements, but I don’t worry too much about them because I know I am in a foreign country. It’s okay to set my pride aside to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
“My students must be committed to sharing what they have learned with future generations."
Doctor Tadashi has received other honors for his humane activities in Vietnam.
He was awarded the 'For People's Health' medal by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health in 2007, a certificate of merit by the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2013, and the Vietnam Friendship Medal by the Vietnamese government in 2014.