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Saturday, June 12, 2010
'Child of sin' finds friends worldwide
In time of need, strangers help Osaka man with heart disorder and visa, family problems
By ADRIANNE VERLA
Special to The Japan Times
Three heart attacks since January, having difficulties with his parents and living in fear that his visa will expire is just the beginning of what 24-year-old Takumi Tanaka is coping with.
Tanaka was diagnosed with cardiac enlargement two years ago. However, it was not until January, when Tanaka had two heart attacks and then a stroke while riding on a bus from Osaka to Hiroshima, that his health began to deteriorate rapidly. In February, he suffered another heart attack and was diagnosed with ventricular septal defect, commonly known as a hole in the heart. Tanaka has three such holes.
Tanaka, who lives in Osaka's Abeno Ward, was born in Italy to a Japanese-Italian father and Taiwanese-Filipino mother. His parents covered the cost of the initial surgery after his stroke; however, they refuse to take further responsibility for their gay son, whom they refer to as their "child of sin."
Due to those circumstances, Tanaka, who recently received his master's degree in international relations from Hiroshima YMCA International Business College, found himself in need of medical care, including followup doctors' visits, medicine and rehabilitation, and with no job lined up and no savings, he has no means to pay for the health care he desperately needs.
Last year, Tanaka gave his life savings to his Filipino grandparents to help them after major flooding occurred in the Philippines. When he is well enough to travel again, Tanaka could possibly try to get a visa to stay with his mother's parents in the Philippines; however his father's parents, with whom he lived in Italy, are recently deceased. If deported to Italy he would be forced to return to a place without friends or family to support him.
On March 8, after hearing that Tanaka skipped his followup doctors' visit because he could not afford to go, his friend, Theo Thourson, knew he had to do something to help.
Thourson, an assistant language teacher on the JET program in Wakayama Prefecture, proceeded to make his first Web site, create a Facebook page and a Twitter account to spread Tanaka's story to as many people as possible. His hope was that if he could share Tanaka's story with enough people, donations would start coming in. His efforts paid off and donations did indeed begin to come in. Recently, however, the donations have slowed to a trickle and Thourson, as well as a few other people, are scrambling to try and come up with other ways to raise money for Tanaka.
One recent event, held April 17, was a 24 km hike in Tanaka's name at Mount Koya. A group of 16 people gathered and raised over ¥50,000 for Tanaka. An art auction is also being organized to raise funds as well as a logo contest. The participant's logos will be featured on apparel, bags, mugs and other items. In just over two months, the social networking site Facebook page has attracted over 1,900 fans from around the globe. The Twitter account is being updated constantly as Tanaka visits doctors and receives treatment, letting people know exactly where their donations are going and how Tanaka is doing.
Thourson has even recorded and posted videos from Tanaka as time allows. People who have sent letters and organized events for Tanaka have received a personal thank-you from him in this way.
Thourson not only makes videos and posts of Tanaka on good days but also the bad ones. Thourson does this because he wants people to know that Tanaka is truly suffering and that his heart conditions are not just a scam. He said that he hopes Snopes (www.snopes.com), an urban legends referencing Web site, will check out Tanaka's story and validate its truth.
"Many of Takumi's friends from the master's program were from other countries and have returned home. . . . I was the one closest to him," Thourson said. "I was the one there."
He said the hardest challenge he has besides raising funds is being so far away. He lives about an 90 minutes to 2 hours from Tanaka but finds time to travel there every weekend as well as during the week as needed. "It's a momentum thing, to keep things going," he said.
Between visits to doctors and taking much-needed medication, Tanaka spends every lucid moment he has searching for a job. He is fluent in English and speaks another six languages, including Japanese, Italian and Korean. He recently went to an interview, but most jobs require an immediate start and Tanaka has months of rehabilitation and another major heart surgery ahead of him before he is capable of working every day.
Thourson believes rather than focusing on finding a job he should be resting and trying to get well, preferably in a hospital where he can receive proper care and treatment. However, without a job, the recent March graduate's visa will soon expire.
So to further complicate matters Thourson and Tanaka are meeting with lawyers trying to work out how Tanaka can remain in Japan. Thourson assured fans and supporters that the donation money sent for Tanaka's health will not be used to pay for the lawyers' fees.
Tanaka, who grew up helping care for his little brothers and teaching volunteer English classes at his local church, is not accustomed to receiving money from others. He hopes to get well quickly and find a job using his recently earned degree and vast language skills. As for how Tanaka feels about Thourson, he said: "I am very thankful. He is the big brother I never had."
Thourson reports on www.takumisheart.com that they have received roughly ¥450,000 in donations.
When he feels able, Tanaka posts comments about himself on Twitter and Facebook. "It's so heart-filling. I thought I was alone, but actually a lot of people all over the world care about me," he said.
Recently, Tanaka had to undergo surgery on his eyes to removed dried blood caused from the stroke and he has to have the fluid in his lungs drained almost biweekly. Over the past week, Tanaka's condition has been worsening. He has suffered hearing and vision problems as well as struggling to breathe.
The past "two or three days he has been basically comatose," said Thourson about Tanaka's health. Due to Tanaka's failing health, surgery was scheduled for this Sunday despite the lack of funds to pay for it and the other costs that will be included.
However, a possible vacancy in a Tokyo doctor's schedule found Tanaka alone on a shinkansen Thursday morning, according to Thourson. "He is very stubborn" Thourson said. "He wanted to do this (the surgery) on his own." As of Friday evening he had not heard from Tanaka. Thourson said he would update the Facebook page as soon as more information is known.