by Janet I. Martineau, Rotary Club of Saginaw Secretary

Nearly a year after the devastating 9.0 earthquake/131-foot tsunami that hit Japan, a 51-year-old international friendship between two “sister cities” is aiding its still-homeless survivors.

A collaboration involving 12 Rotary Clubs in Saginaw, Michigan, and Tokushima, Japan, raised $76,500 to purchase 36 automated external heart defibrillators for use in temporary shelters housing nearly 13,000 people displaced by the double disaster last March.

Eight of the machines already are in use in four cities with the remaining 28 headed to two other cities by the end of January.

“The six cities where the defibrillators from our project are headed have a population of 370,000, and around 28 percent of the survivors living in their shelters are over the age of 60,” says Thomas W. Cline, a member of the Rotary Club of Saginaw and who served as the liaison between the two sister cities of Saginaw and Tokushima.

Adds Dr. Bala Srinivasan, a retired physician/cardiac anesthesiologist and member of the Saginaw Valley Rotary Club, “Elderly people are prone to irregular hearts which are corrected or converted to regular heart beats by the use of defibrillators, with minimal side effects.

“With the added stress of this big natural calamity, many of the elderly there are even more prone for this cardiac problem, and we are grateful to be of some help.”

Called AEDs, the units contain simple audio and visual commands and are designed for use by laymen rather than the more sophisticated manual and semi-automatic machines used by health professionals.

Tokushima lies about 460 miles south from the earthquake epicenter in Sendai, and as luck would have it has a sister city relationship not only with Saginaw but also Sendai.

So when Srinivasan, then president of the Saginaw Valley Rotary Club, suggested last March that the Rotary Club of Saginaw approach its “sister” Tokushima West Rotary Club, asking if there was any aid it could provide, the wheels were set in motion.

“Tokushima conferred with Sendai and discovered the area around it was  in need of  the defibrillators,” says Evelyn Mudd, who was president of the Rotary Club of Saginaw at the time.

“When representatives from our sister city visited Saginaw in May,  the two Rotarians in the group attended a meeting with representatives from the three Saginaw Clubs (Saginaw Sunrise being the third) and an agreement was reached as to details. After that it was a matter of just coordinating everything.”

Mudd recalls late night calls between Michigan and Japan, due to the time differences, as well as translation assistance from Yoko Mossner, a native of Japan living in Saginaw, and William Mahar, an American Catholic missionary living in Tokushima.

Of the total $76,500 project, the three clubs in Saginaw collectively raised $10,000, nine Rotary clubs in Tokushima and one in Sendai itself raised $21,937, two Rotary districts in the two nations raised $20,000, and Rotary International chipped in $24,562.

The city of Tokushima has a population of 267,347 and the city of Saginaw 51,508.

The quake and tidal wave claimed an estimated 6,548 lives in the area where the 36 machines will see duty, says Cline, with 1,257 missing. 

Cline says most of the shelters are in schools as well as public halls and citizen centers as clean-up and reconstruction continues.

“Shelter living is in a dormitory setting; large rooms where people place matting on which they place bedding,” he says. “Attempts at privacy are made through curtains, or cardboard partitions.  They are served food at central locations.

“The under 60 adults who have employment go to work from the shelter.  Those over 60, and the unemployed under 60, remain at the shelter.  

“And bear in mind that the loss of housing normally includes the loss of all possessions.”

The project is, says Cline, just a matter of “friends helping friends.”

Rotary International, recognized as the world's first volunteer service organization, was founded in Chicago in 1905.  The Rotary Club of Saginaw was the 93rd club founded and in 2014 celebrates its 100th anniversary. There are now more than 34,000 Rotary Clubs in 200 countries and geographic areas.