A doctor with divine hands in Vietnam: Tadashi Hattori

In the autumn of 2001, Tadashi Hattori (服部 匡志), an ophthalmologist, was requested to come to Vietnam by a Vietnamese doctor at a symposium and since 2002 he has treated over 2,000 patients while training doctor as well. In Vietnam he is called “the man with the divine hands”. He has a passion for teaching the latest techniques of vitreous body and retinal surgery to other doctors.
Following his motto “the patient is your parent”, he is giving free medical treatment to Vietnamese people living in poverty and he is paying the expenses with the medical fees he earns in various Japanese places.

As of November 2005, Hattori had already assumed the costs of eyesight loss prevention surgery for more than 100 Vietnamese people. He leads a double life. He regularly returns to Japan to work as a temporary doctor to raise funds. While staying in Vietnam, Hattori has no days off, and he gives high priority to medical examinations and treatment activities in different localities during weekends.

Hattori says about the importance of his activities in Vietnam: “The patients thank him saying that they were treated by a ‘ Japanese’ doctor, not by a doctor named Hattori. I can’t be irresponsible nor can I leave anything half done. So I always do my best. I am always prepared to work with a Japanese flag on my shoulders.”

Tadashi Hattori was born in Osaka in 1964, and while he was in high school, his father died of stomach cancer. The heartless words of the doctor, who was in charge of his father, made him to decide to become “a doctor who understands the pain of his patients”. He entered the medical department of Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine and was inspired by Shigeru Kinoshita, the professor of ophthalmology, and he decided to study ophthalmology.

There were many self-centered doctors in the university, and the medical care provided there was not what he was seeking. He left the university, and acquired the achievements in several private hospitals in different places.
As a result, he managed to master the most refined surgical techniques in the field of vitreous body and retinal surgery known in Japan.

In October 2007, Hattori met a Vietnamese doctor at a clinical ophthalmology symposium in the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine. The doctor told him that, “In our country, there are many people who cannot even have surgery to prevent them from becoming blind”, asking him if he could give treatments and educate doctors in Vietnam. He went there in April 2004.

Hattori was just bewildered by the shortage of medical necessities and staff behavior when he started in his new post in Vietnam. Since medical facilities were not sufficient, he purchased some of the newest medical equipment in Japan with his own money, which he had been saving as a deposit for an apartment he wanted to buy, and brought it to Vietnam.

Hattori was unable to complete all planned surgeries. Doctors, nurses and other personnel had a habit of taking a two-hour siesta at noon, so there was no one in the staff room before surgery time. They cleaned up slowly and took it easy while finishing work by 4 o’clock in the afternoon. That was their way, and surgery appointments were cancelled without a second thought, even if the patients were already waiting for their surgery. The local staff complained to him when they had to learn something new or when their workload increased.

Hattori asked the staff “If the patients were your parents, what would you do?” He tried to persuade them, and eventually made them understand the situation. The passion of Hattori, who was doing free surgeries and took medical treatment very seriously, gradually changed their attitudes.

Tomiya Mano, director of Tane Memorial Eye Hospital (Osaka, Nishi-ku) where Hattori, who went on knight-errantry in hospitals in various places in Japan, worked for two years from 1994, said, “Think that a patient is your family”. Since then this word has been Hattori’s principle. Hattori said that Mano taught him that a doctor should have not only the skills but also the heart. He learned much more. Even during surgery, Mano took the scalpel away from Hattori and other inexperienced doctors saying “I can’t stand watching your performance. Leave it to me.” And he also said, “Do you think that the patient wants a doctor like you to continue surgery, even if he is a family member or a close relative? Think well.” Hattori was mortified and when he was pointed out that his left hand was not working at all during surgery, he practiced using chopsticks with his left hand. He went to work earlier than any other doctor in the morning, and in this way he learned his lesson over and over. Such efforts improved his skills. (Quote from Yomiuri Shimbun, December 20th, 2006)

About one year and a half after Hattori went to Vietnam, Japanese newspapers reported about his activities. The Embassy of Japan in Vietnam learned about them. Thanks to this, Norio Hattori, the  Ambassador of Japan to Vietnam encouraged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to provide medical facilities to National Institute of Ophthalmology and the Hai Phong Eye Center in Vietnam where Hattori has various activities including providing medical treatment. This led to Japan providing funds for Official Development Assistance.

July 4th, 2004, Yoriko Kawaguchi, Minister for Foreign Affairs, went to Vietnam for informal talks and she visited the National Institute of Ophthalmology where she expressed her admiration of Hattori and her gratitude for his selfless devotion.

July 13th, 2005, Hattori received an appreciation letter from Nobutaka Machimura, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, praising his meritorious deeds not only in improving healthcare technology but also for his efforts towards mutual understanding at a grass-roots level between Japan and Vietnam and for the promotion of friendly relations.

Although the training of medical personnel and its work ethics have improved, and the number of excellent Vietnamese doctors who trained with Hattori has increased, the environment in which they can use their skills is limited. Due to the shortage of medical materials, Hattori has purchased them at his own expense.

Hattori has a dream: In order to increase the possibility for people to get surgery from experienced surgeons, he wants a hospital with training facilities to educate doctors with skills and heart in Vietnam. And in the near future, in cooperation with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and others he intends to extend the medical network from Vietnam around the globe, a network with a heart that considers patients its first priority. Now he is striving to make this come true.