February 11th 2019
KATANO, Osaka — A couple caring for their son who suffered a brain injury due to a car accident succeeded in prompting the finance ministry to resume returning part of its investment gains from the compulsory automobile liability insurance program to the transport ministry’s special account budget from fiscal 2018, to secure funds for relief measures for traffic accident victims.
Yuji Kuwayama, 62, and his wife Akiko, 58, were driven by a sense of danger in “receding relief measures.” Although reluctant at first, the Ministry of Finance resumed returning investment profits that had been diverted from the transport ministry’s special account to the state’s general account, for the first time in 15 years.
Their son, Atsushi, was hit by a car in 1995 while walking across a street near his home and suffered one of the most severe forms of disability known as persistent disturbance of consciousness, which made him unable to talk or move on his own. The couple laid their hopes on treatment and rehabilitation but began providing in-home nursing care from December 1996 as their son did not recover.
Yuji and Akiko help their 31-year-old son sit up in bed and stretch his back at their home in the western Japan city of Katano, Osaka Prefecture. Atsushi looked relaxed when asked, “Do you feel good ‘Acchan?'” Atsushi is still called by the same nickname he had been called from the second year of primary school, when the accident that made him bedridden occurred. The couple, who interpret their son’s emotions from the changes in his facial expression, explained Atsushi “looks good when he’s happy.”
Yuji and Akiko were a high school teacher and employee, respectively, but the burden of caring for their son was beyond their imagination. As a result, Akiko resigned in 1999, followed by Yuji in 2006. The couple’s life plan for their “child to grow up healthily in a normal family” ended in tragedy.
The couple sleeps besides their son’s bed so that they can notice any abnormalities with him. Yuji and Akiko have not slept deeply from the day of the accident as they have to use a suction sputum device, change diapers and provide water through a feeding tube for Atsushi. The couple has spent over 20 years living every day thinking about taking care of their son.
In 2004, Yuji established and became the head of an organization for victims suffering persistent disturbance of consciousness and their family members by calling for cooperation from families across Japan providing care. The nationwide body was the first of its kind. Until then, families struggling with caregiving had no means to reach out for help from the government. Yuji repeatedly petitioned the government expressing the desires of about 300 families that became members.
Before its establishment, there were only four hospitals in Japan providing special treatment to patients left with profound disabilities. Due to Yuji and others’ persistent demands, there are currently 10 of such hospitals run by the National Agency for Automotive Safety and Victims’ Aid under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
Yuji has also called for intensification of measures to support victims with disabilities after it becomes difficult for their parents to provide care due to old age and other reasons. The 62-year-old father expressed a sense of crisis over the problem “that could affect anyone.” From fiscal 2018, the transport ministry has begun operation of a system to provide staff wage and other subsidies to facilities where car accident victims can reside.
Traffic accident deaths have been on the decline due to progress in critical care, but the number of victims newly identified with serious disabilities remains at around 1,700 each year. Yuji and the heads of other automobile-related organizations met with Minister of Finance Taro Aso and demanded reinforcement of measures to support victims. As a result, the return of investment profits will continue in the next fiscal year with an increased amount.
Yuji feels he has a grave responsibility for the following generations. “I assume treatment of brain damage will improve with the advancement in regenerative medicine and other areas,” stated the 62-year-old. He added, “I hope to continue activities (to support traffic accident victims) for the rest of my life, and to support the ‘consolation match’ of Atsushi’s life.”
Efforts to improve and expand the number of special hospitals and caregiving facilities as well as urging the return of investment profits will continue.