Aiko Kin, a 59-year-old nurse in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, has been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal by the International Committee of the Red Cross for her dedication to the victims of the 2011 quake and tsunami.

Kin, deputy director and head nurse at the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, was among 32 nurses from 16 countries to receive the medal, which honors “exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster.”

“I’m sure my (late) husband would have been the happiest person to hear the news,” she said.

Before the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake rocked the northeast and triggered tsunami that devastated Tohoku’s coastal areas on March 11, 2011, Kin and her husband, 61, had agreed that in an emergency, they would meet up at the hospital.

In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, she worked frantically in the hospital’s hastily set up emergency headquarters, which served as the main aid center in the coastal city, believing she would be reunited with her husband soon.

Kin waited for weeks, but he never returned.

Shortly before orientation at the hospital on April 1 that year, Kin learned that the body of her husband had been found. Despite her grief, she still managed to hand each of the new nurses a letter of appointment with a smile.

“I was not the only one at the hospital who had to continue working while relatives remained missing. I just fulfilled my mission to protect people’s lives together with my colleagues,” Kin explained.

But when she lies in bed her eyes still fill with tears.

“The sadness never disappears, but I decided to accept the medal in honor of all the staff at the hospital who aided victims,” she said.

Raised in Miyagi, Kin has worked at the Red Cross hospital for 38 years. When it was relocated in 2006, she suggested emergency power and oxygen supply systems be installed in anticipation of a large-scale disaster.

The value of those preparations was proved in the March 2011 calamities, according to the hospital.

“Taking care of patients — that is the only thing I can do,” Kin said modestly. “So I would probably choose to become a nurse if I were born again.”

The eldest of her two sons has also decided to follow in Kin’s footsteps.

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