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A worker exposed to last week’s massive radiation leak in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, underwent a transfusion of peripheral stem cells Wednesday afternoon to shore up his blood-forming functions, doctors said.

According to doctors at the University of Tokyo Hospital, Hisashi Ouchi, 35, was exhibiting signs of pneumonia and remained in critical condition.

Hospital staff began collecting blood from Ouchi’s brother in the morning in preparation for the transfusion. It has become difficult for the patient to produce blood due to a sustained drop in his white blood corpuscle and platelet count, doctors said.

Ouchi, who was exposed to 17 sieverts of radiation, is among three employees at the JCO Co. uranium-processing plant injured in the accident. Scientists have said that amount of radiation is equivalent to 17,000 times the average annual exposure in Japan.

Another worker, Masato Shinohara, 39, is also in the Research Hospital of the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo in critical condition after being exposed to 8 sieverts. On Wednesday, doctors said his white cell and lymphocyte count was also dropping.

Shinohara is to receive a transfusion of umbilical cord blood Saturday, also to help him produce more blood.

In Tuesday’s briefing on Ouchi’s condition, doctors said that although he is conscious, they cannot lower their guard because excess fluid is continuing to accumulate in his lungs as a result of dehydration — a side effect of radiation poisoning.

Another JCO worker, Yutaka Yokokawa, 54, who is being treated at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, has suffered a slight drop of white blood cells and lymphocytes but has regained consciousness and appetite, doctors at the institute said.

The doctors said Yokokawa, who was exposed to 3 sieverts, the least among the three, has a normal body temperature and blood pressure.

He is being treated through a combination of oral feeding and an intravenous drip to maintain body fluids.

But the doctors also expressed caution, saying they expect the full effects of radiation poisoning, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, to set in later.

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