The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


January 2014

Fatal illness affects ACCJ at large

Megan Waters

Late last year I had the honor of meeting Hiro Fujita, planning director at ACCJ member company McCann Erickson Japan. He is, I’m sure, one of the bravest and most inspiring people I will ever have the privilege to meet.

Aged just 31, Hiro was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—in November 2010. The fatal disease is accompanied by a gradual physical weakening, followed by atrophy of the body’s muscles in the limbs, throat, tongue, and respiratory system.

However, bodily sensation, cognitive function, vision, and functions of the internal organs remain intact.

Eye movement eventually becomes the only means of communication, making those with ALS prisoners in their paralyzed bodies.

The cause of the disease is not known, its progression is extremely rapid, and the average life expectancy after diagnosis is three to five years.

Closer to home, in 2011 former ACCJ staff member Maria Frankie, who worked in the accounting department, passed away from the disease. She had been diagnosed as having the condition a mere 18 months earlier.

Less than four years after his diagnosis, Hiro, who now can move only his facial muscles and left index finger, communicates using an eye-tracking system. His suffering and battle to stay alive enjoy no respite. They fill every second of every day.

However, Hiro has not given up. His mission is to end ALS, and his great sense of humor is still intact.

In January 2012 he established the END ALS Association to raise awareness about the disease, help find a cure, and change healthcare policy. Currently, Japan’s National Health Insurance system does not sufficiently cover the purchase of communication tools, which are essential if ALS patients are to remain communicating members of society.

Hiro recently published a book, 99% Thank You, Things Even ALS Can’t Take Away. Entirely written using an eye-tracking system, this inspiring and funny memoir, written by such a brave man, made me realize that we take so much for granted. We spend far too little time enjoying the smaller things in life.

Since meeting Hiro, I have often thought about him, and the hundreds of thousands of other ALS sufferers around the world. They can’t do even the simplest of things but would desperately like to do so.

According to a survey, 85% of ALS sufferers said that what they most would like to do is have everyday conversations.

So I say to all ACCJ Journal readers: let’s use our voices to help Hiro in his quest to end ALS. It is a disease that can afflict anyone at any time and, currently, there is no cure.

As Hiro says in his book, “All I can say to you is, if you can do it, do it now.”

END ALS Association:
For inquiries, please contact
Corporate Communications, McCann Worldgroup Japan