Photo/IllutrationShigekatsu Tanaka serves as director of the Japan Marrow Donor Registry Promotion Conference. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

People who have had a bone marrow transplant often think of their age in terms of the number of years that have elapsed since surgery.

Kazuhiro Hashimoto of Osaka Prefecture is 57, but he is celebrating his “30th birthday” this year.

The first successful recipient in Japan of bone marrow from an unrelated donor, Hashimoto has regained his health, and has since been living a busy, active life as a full-time company employee.

He was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in the spring of his second year with the company. His condition sharply deteriorated the following year, and he was told by his doctor that his only hope lay in finding a compatible bone marrow donor.

About 3,000 people, including his friends and acquaintances, underwent tests to be potential donors. But nobody had the type of white blood cells that matched Hashimoto’s.

It pained him greatly to accept the inevitable--that he would die without ever working fully as an adult member of society.

But a compatible male donor was discovered through a bone marrow bank in the Tokai region, which started match-up services ahead of national facilities.

The transplant was successful, and Hashimoto’s body began producing healthy blood cells. His blood type, which was AB, changed to the donor’s type O.

Initially, all Hashimoto knew about the donor was that he was a man in his 40s.

But eight years after surgery, he met the donor, Shigekatsu Tanaka of Gifu Prefecture, who is now 70, for the first time at a gathering promoting bone marrow banks.

They shook hands and have since gone on speaking tours together.

Thirty years ago, there were only about 400 registered bone marrow donors in Japan. Today, the number exceeds 500,000.

However, registered donors are automatically disqualified when they turn 55 or when they become ill. Their number is said to be far from enough to meet the needs of patients requiring transplants.

“I owe him my life, and no words can ever express how thankful I am,” Hashimoto said of Tanaka. “He is something like the light of my life.”

As I listened to his declaration of gratitude, I prayed with all my heart that there will be more registered donors across age groups, so that more people will find the “light” that will lift them out of the depths of despair.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.