May 17 will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of my son, Kelly Savage, following 10 days of being restrained (strapped to a bed) at Yamato Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Medical authorities have determined that Kelly’s death may have been caused by deep vein thrombosis that developed as a result of him being unable to move his legs while restrained. Kelly went into cardiac arrest while at Yamato Hospital, at which time he was rushed to Yamato City Hospital. He was placed on life support and died there seven days later without regaining consciousness.

Kelly was only 27 years old and in good physical health but suffered from ongoing mental health issues. An acute onset of his bipolar disorder led to his hospitalization last April.

Kelly was employed beginning in 2015 by the Japanese government as an assistant language teacher in Shibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture, as a member of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. He was a dedicated, well-respected and much-loved teacher at primary and intermediate schools in the Shibushi area.

Kelly’s tragic death has received wide publicity both in Japan and internationally. This publicity came about as a response to the unwillingness of the authorities at Yamato Hospital to provide an explanation as to what took place when Kelly was in their care. Only after wide publicity, threats of legal action and the family’s insistence did the hospital grudgingly provide Kelly’s medical records. Hospital authorities have never offered an apology, denied any responsibility for Kelly’s death and refused to report his death to the Medsafe investigation program, despite being required to by Japanese law.

Instead they have disingenuously shirked responsibility by arguing that Kelly’s death happened at Yamato City Hospital (where he was taken after his heart had stopped for over 30 minutes). The fact remains that Kelly arrived at Yamato Psychiatric Hospital suffering only from a mental health crisis, and after 10 days of forced restraint he went into cardiac arrest. Whether that happened because of deep vein thrombosis, a reaction to the medication he was given or any other medical reason, the hospital staff and administrators were derelict in their duty of care.

The publicity surrounding Kelly’s tragedy has focused attention on the widespread use of long-term restraint used on patients in Japanese psychiatric hospitals where such use is official, government-sanctioned medical policy. Virtually all other First World countries have long ago abandoned the use of long-term restraint on the understanding that it can lead to fatal outcomes such as happened to Kelly. A petition to review this policy has been signed by nearly 5,000 individuals and will be presented to the health minister. Readers are urged to sign the petition (goo.gl/UBSyzd) and contact the minister to support changing Japan’s outdated and dangerous policy of long-term restraint of psychiatric patients.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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