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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

After Horror of Hiroshima, Doctor Uses Radiation to Heal

Twenty minutes before Dr. Ritsuko Komaki's flight was scheduled to arrive at Tokyo's Narita airport Friday, the pilot said an earthquake had ravaged the northeast region of her homeland.

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The plane circled above the broken country that would soon be pummeled again by a 33-foot tsunami before finally landing safely in Nagoya.

Komaki, a radiation oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, went to Japan to give a lecture on radiation cancer therapy in Tokyo. Instead, she took a taxi to her older sister's house near Nagoya, where the two Hiroshima natives watched Japan's worst catastrophe since the atomic bomb worsen through the night.

"I've never seen such a disaster in my life," said Komaki, who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb hit her home town, ultimately killing a dozen of her relatives.

"While I was watching TV, I saw that [a building] at the Fukushima nuclear plant exploded. I thought, 'Oh my goodness. If that explodes, this is like the atomic bomb explosion, and how many people will be exposed?'"

When the atomic bomb dropped, Komaki and her immediately family were in Osaka -- roughly 200 miles from Hiroshima. But her father rushed home, braving the "black rain," to fetch Komaki's 45-year-old grandmother.

"She had very high dose of radiation, but was lucky because she was inside her house, she was protected," Komaki said, describing the horror of her grandmother's hair loss and nose bleeds.

Despite anemia, osteoporosis, thyroid dysfunction and heart disease, Komaki's grandmother lived to be 72 without signs of cancer.

Many of Komaki's childhood friends weren't so lucky. Classmates' burns were a constant reminder of the bomb. But the damage below their skin would prove to be the disaster's more haunting scar.

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