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Staff writer

On Nov. 5, 1998, a 38-year-old Myanmar woman gave birth through Caesarean section to a baby girl — her first child — at a hospital in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. The baby was big, weighing 3,734 grams.

But the mother’s happiness did not last long. Five days later, doctors told her that her child had a congenital heart problem — patent ductus arteriosus, abnormal persistence of an open passage between the aorta and the pulmonary artery. Normally this passage closes shortly after birth.

Although the baby, Rhyo Ma Ma Moe, needs an operation, her parents can’t afford it. Without the operation, their baby will die.

Both the mother and father came to Japan from Myanmar in November 1994 and overstayed their visas. The father’s job situation is unstable. Remembering the day that she received the bad news, the mother, May May (not her real name), said through an interpreter: “I cried all that day. Even these days, I am so worried that tears often come out.”

While she no longer works, her husband, Maung Maung (not his real name), does kitchen work in Shinjuku 12 hours a day — 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at a “soba” noodle shop and 5 to 11 p.m. at a Japanese-style tavern. Because of the recession, the tavern may close soon, he said.

“Even while I’m working, the worry about my child does not leave my mind. I pray that she will become healthy,” Maung Maung said.

The couple is being helped by the Friendly Asians Home, a volunteer organization based in Shinjuku’s Shin-Okubo district that aids foreigners in trouble.

Kazuhiro Nakakihara, a medical doctor and leading member of the FAH, said: “The baby’s heart problem is caused by the mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. This problem is sometimes found among newborns. If the baby is not operated on, she will die in several years. “If she catches a cold and develops pneumonia, her condition will become critical. But if she is operated on, she will be saved without fail. Because I know this, I hope all the more that she will be able to undergo an operation,” Nakakihara said.

Under national health insurance, the operation would only cost 1 million yen, according to Nakakihara. But because the couple has no health insurance, the operation will be prohibitively expensive — at least 3 million yen. They covered the 720,000 yen fee for the Caesarean section by borrowing money from some compatriots.

One possible way to save the baby is to take her back to Myanmar for an operation, according to Taeko Kimura, who founded the FAH with her husband, Yoshio, more than 30 years ago.

To do so, the couple would have to have their passports extended by the Myanmar embassy in Tokyo. To get the extension they would have to pay a tax imposed by the Myanmar government on each Myanmar citizen abroad, which amounts to 120,000 yen per year and carries a yearly penalty of 10,000 yen if the payment is not made, according to the Kimuras.

Because the couple has not paid the tax in their four years here, they would have to come up with 1.04 million yen.

Nakakihara, who runs a medical clinic in Nakai, Shinjuku Ward, where many people from Myanmar live, has been calling on his patients, who include not only Japanese but also the couple’s compatriots, to donate money to save the baby’s life. He has so far collected about 70,000 yen.

Yoshio Kimura, head of the FAH, said that because the family must return to Myanmar sooner or later, not only the cost of the operation but additional expenses, including the tax and air fares, must be taken into account.

An increasing number of people from Myanmar are suffering from various types of diseases but Japanese society is not prepared to give them sufficient treatment, he pointed out.

Donations can be made to postal account 00160-2-612222 Ajia Yuko no Ie (FAH).

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