It was shock that convinced Kyoko Kimura to give up her medical practice in Japan to pursue a mission of saving lives in Cambodia.

Appalled by the medical conditions in Nepal while vacationing there several years ago, she began to realize how fortunate the people of her own country are to have access to quality medical care.

“I dreamed of contributing to improving the medical situation in Third World countries. So, I sought the opportunity to go to the field to share my skills and help with the reconstruction of the medical system in Cambodia,” Kimura said.

Kimura, 30, first heard about the Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE when she was attending Tsukuba University’s School of Medicine and was already contributing to HOPE Worldwide, a nongovernmental organization.

HOPE Worldwide raises money to fund the Sihanouk center.

After completing a two-year residency at Tokyo Metropolitan Bokuto Hospital in Sumida Ward and working for three years to polish her skills as an internist and infectious disease specialist, she took the plunge and moved to Cambodia in April last year.

A brainchild of Bernard Krisher, chairman of Japan Relief for Cambodia, an nongovernmental organization, the hospital was established in Phnom Penh in 1996.

A 24-hour free hospital, it is now a beacon of hope for the more than 280,000 patients who have been treated there and the many more to come.

“I mainly work in the outpatient clinic, and we have 270 to 300 patients daily. My role is to support the Cambodian doctors and help with the difficult cases — usually 20 to 30 people a day,” Kimura said.

But providing medical care to the sick in a country ravaged by the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge is no job for the faint of heart.

“It’s difficult because usually the patients have more than one disease, and, because there is insufficient medical care, they come to us in very serious conditions. We need more diagnostic tools and funds for medicine,” Kimura said.

The hospital raises funds through several organizations, including HOPE Worldwide, whose branch HOPE Worldwide Japan will host a charity event called the International Run for Hope 2001, on Saturday around Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park.

Kimura, who will be in Tokyo to join the event, said the fundraiser is just what the doctor ordered and a worthwhile sacrifice.

“Our hospital is one of the only hospitals providing high-quality care free of charge for the many Cambodians who are still poor. We are training 32 doctors and 66 nurses now and need a lot of financial support for the continuance of the hospital,” she said.

The entry fee for the run — 10,000 yen for adults, less for students — goes directly to help the hospital — a small price for the number of Cambodian lives that can be saved, Kimura said.

“In most cases, just 1,000 yen is enough to cure pneumonia before it becomes severe, or it can allow us to test as many as 200 people for malaria.”

Seeing the smiles of patients who had lost hope before being treated is what is most rewarding, she said.

But some of Cambodia’s poor get to the hospital too late.

“I feel so sad because if they’d come to us a little earlier or had knowledge about our hospital, they might have been saved,” she said.

But there are many success stories, too.

Lakena, 15, who was stricken with a serious lung disease at age 11, was unable to attend school because even walking caused her to gasp uncontrollably.

Unable to afford medical care, her mother relied on traditional healers and took her to a pediatric hospital in Phnom Penh that treated her for tuberculosis, but her condition worsened.

It was not until she arrived at the Sihanouk center that doctors discovered a massive infection in her right lung, which had already collapsed because of a hole caused by the tuberculosis.

Surgeons inserted a chest tube and, after three days on antibiotics and oxygen, her conditioned improved. Three weeks later, she went home. And with the help of the chest tube, she can finally breathe easy.

For Lakena’s mother, who could not afford schooling for her other children for four years because she spent money to care for her daughter, the Sihanouk center has been a godsend.

Kimura said the mother told her the family had been without hope before they came to the center.

There is still work to be done, the doctor conceded, though the Cambodian government is collaborating with international organizations to treat HIV, TB and other illnesses and is conducting immunizations for preventable diseases.

Her main concern now is the reconstruction of Cambodia’s ravaged medical system through training.

“We are focusing on training medical professionals in Cambodia who are eager to learn,” Kimura said. “Someday, I’ll return to Japan and share my experience, and other doctors from Japan will come to the Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE to share their experience, too.”

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