The Story Of Hisashi Ouchi, A Victim of Fatal Radiation Kept Alive for 83 Days Against His Will

January 9, 2018 | 4 Comments » | Topics: Story, WTF

Hisashi Ouchi was one of the technicians working at a facility operated by JCO (formerly Japanese Nuclear Fuel Conversion Co.) in Tokai of Ibaraki Perfecture. He is one of the two fatalities of Tokaimura nuclear accident that exposed him to, perhaps, the highest amount of radiation any human had exposed so far. The ethical value of his prolonged treatment and efforts to keep him alive, that lasted for almost three months despite his wishes and the pain he had to endure, was questioned and the efforts received criticism.

The accident occurred on September 30, 1999, when Hisashi Ouchi and two of his colleagues added a seventh bucket of aqueous uranyl nitrate solution to a precipitation tank. Upon adding, the tank reached critical stage and went into a self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction releasing intense gamma and neutron radiation. 

During the accident, Ouchi was exposed to 17 sieverts of radiation with 8 sieverts being normally considered fatal and 50milli sieverts being the maximum limit of annual dose allowed for Japanese nuclear workers. 

At first, Ouchi came into the hospital with just some puffy redness to his skin. Ouchi’s chromosomes had been hit by a direct blast of radiation and were a jumbled mess. Without this vital blueprint, his cells would no longer be able to regenerate. The first real problem doctors noticed was a drastic decrease in white blood cells. Day 6, he was placed into a sterile (bubble) room. The doctors determined that the only way to improve Ouchi’s condition would be to give him a transplant of cells that would generate white blood cells. Day 7, Ouchi receives a transplant from his sister (a match). The doctor would meet with the family every day to candidly discuss his condition. Signs of radiation sickness were beginning to show up on the surface of Ouchi’s body. A nurse recalls how at first, they were able to use tape on his body, but soon when they’d go to remove the tape, skin would come off with it. Ultimately, there was nowhere left where tape could be used. When his skin started to slough off from the top down, no new cells could be formed to repair the skin. His breathing started to get erratic. (At this point, they show a nurse’s written record of Ouchi and he’s saying, “No more” “I’m going home” “Please stop” “Mom”) Day 11, to help him breathe, Ouchi is hooked up to a ventilator. This meant he’d no longer be able to speak to his family. The family (wife, son, parents, and siblings) visited him every day.

Day 18, the transfusion from his sister seems to have worked, and Ouchi’s white blood cell count returns to healthy levels. A week later, abnormalities are found in his blood. It seemed that the radiation in Ouchi’s body had damaged the chromosomes in the cells that he received from his sister. Day 27, problems beyond the skin and blood: (They show video of his intestines. The membranes are deteriorating.) He begins experiencing excessive diarrhea. 3 weeks after the diarrhea starts, the intestines start to hemorrhage (another video of his intestines, this time with blood.) He was given lots of blood transfusions, as many as 10 times in 12 hours. To help his circulation and put less pressure on his skin, Ouchi is moved to a special rotating bed. The places where he’d lost skin were seeping blood and fluids. He had to be wrapped almost completely in gauze. A nurse recalls how there was so much fluid leaking that it’d take half a day just to deal with the gauze, and how painful it must have been for Ouchi, although they gave him lots of medicine to sleep. His wife recalls how he bled out of his eyes, as if he was crying blood. He was losing 10 liters of fluid a day through his skin and intestines.

In order to curb the loss of fluid through the skin, doctors began daily skin transplants with special “bio skin.” (At this point, his skin was pretty much gone.) Unfortunately, the bio skin wouldn’t adhere to his body. A doctor explains that all the doctors probably knew that Ouchi’s chances of survival were low, but nobody dared say so out loud. Vocalizing any doubt could have led everyone to start questioning what they were doing and for who. A visibly traumatized nurse recounts how Ouchi continued to deteriorate and was hooked up to a machine, and in her losing battle to keep him alive, she wondered, “What am I doing this for?” She had to remind herself that she was doing it for Ouchi. 2 months after the accident, as Ouchi goes through a continuous process of hemorrhaging and blood transfusions, his heart continues to work hard to pump blood through his body, averaging over 120 beats per minute. The strain on his heart is similar to someone who is running a marathon. Day 59, suddenly, Ouchi’s heart stops. As the medical staff works to revive him, his heart starts and stops three times. After an hour, Ouchi’s heart begins beating on its own again. The traumatized nurse recounts that she was relieved when his heart started beating again, “but…” (implying conflicted feelings.) Having his heart stop for an hour affected his brain, kidneys, etc. and his condition quickly declined. His body was essentially being kept alive by machines and medicine.

The head doctor admits to debating whether or not to continue treating Ouchi, but says that the family didn’t want to give up hope until the very end, and that kept the doctors going. The family was still visiting Ouchi and encouraging him to fight on. Day 65, more problems with the blood. (I don’t understand the explanation exactly, but his white blood cells were being attacked and decreasing in numbers again.) Day 81, the head doctor sits down with the family and suggests that if Ouchi’s heart stops again, they should let him go. The next day, the wife visits Ouchi and expresses her desire for him to survive through the new year. Day 83, the young son visits and encourages his father to keep fighting. That night, Ouchi died. They show pictures of his muscle tissue and explain that all of his muscles were destroyed except for one: his heart.

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  • the man from amsterdam

    the pain this guy must have gone through.
    this story reminds me a little of a movie called “johnny got his gun”
    where a very young soldier in ww1 gets a little too close to an explosion.
    and subsequently loses his arms and legs and the use of his mouth, nose, ears and eyes. trapped in his own body eventually he begs the doctors to kill him.

    • Wombat34

      Metallica wrote a song about that.

      • the man from amsterdam

        i know. thats how i found out about that movie.

  • Wombat34

    um, fuck. That last pic is pretty real.