July 9, 2012—After reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Cornelius Wright’s fifth grade class at Nitsch Elementary set out to learn more.
The non-fiction novel by Eleanor Coor details the life of Sadako, a young girl who was an infant in 1945 when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. As a result, Sadako contracted leukemia from the radiation and died when she was 11 years old.
While in the hospital, Sadako strived to fulfill an old Japanese legend that says an ill person may be granted with the wish of life when 1,000 paper cranes are completed. Unfortunately she was only able to complete 644 before becoming too weak to continue. But, her family and friends worked together and finished. Today, Sadako’s spirit is celebrated in Japan and worldwide as she has become a symbol of hope, strength and world peace.
After research, Wright’s class learned that Sadako’s friend, Ritsuko Komaki, grew up to become a doctor and works at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. With this in mind, Wright worked diligently to reach Dr. Komaki and was able to arrange for her to visit his students at Nitsch.
In anticipation of her visit, the students composed several questions for Dr. Komaki, who graciously answered.
Q: How did you meet Sadako?
A: I met Sadako when my father used to cut her father’s hair.
Q: Why did Sadako try to make 1,000 paper cranes while she was ill?
A: Making 1,000 cranes means good luck for your health and happiness.
Q: Why or how did Sadako get leukemia?
A: Sadako’s whole body was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb, which caused her bone marrow to fail to produce healthy blood cells.
Q: Can we cure leukemia now?
A: Yes, many types of leukemia are curable. Acute granulocytic leukemia, like Sadako had, is still difficult to cure. But, recent discoveries of new drugs for leukemia were done here at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Q: Why didn’t you get leukemia?
A: When the atomic bomb dropped, my family and I were fortunate to be more than 200 miles away from Hiroshima due to my father’s work.
Before leaving Nitsch, Komaki shared advice with students to never smoke. According to Dr. Komaki, she has seen many patients who get cancer due to smoking. She also emphasized the importance of eating a healthy diet, full of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. After the visit, Wright shared that his students were both excited and happy that Dr. Komaki came to Nitsch, and it made a lasting impression.
“I really enjoyed talking to her and asking her how it felt to see all the damage back in Hiroshima,” said Valerie Puente, a fifth-grade student in the class. “I loved getting to talk to her, it was awesome.”