A New Zealand man has died after allegedly being forcibly tied to a bed in a Japanese psychiatric hospital for 10 days.
Kelly Savage, 27, who also had US citizenship, died in May after a massive heart attack at the Yamato municipal hospital, where he was admitted on 30 April following a manic episode with psychotic features.
The Guardian reports that his family believes the heart attack was the result of deep vein thrombosis, which he developed after being unable to move or walk at the psychiatric hospital for 10 days.
Savage had a history of depression in New Zealand but had worked for two years as an English teacher in Japan without problems until April this year. His mother, Martha Savage, said her son had “bloomed” in a country he loved, was living a full and productive life, and was beloved by his students.
Savage stopped taking his medication in April and his bipolar symptoms reappeared. His brother Patrick, who was with him when he was admitted to the acute ward, said Kelly was not violent and his symptoms were not severe enough to warrant forcible restraint.
He said the restraints at Yamato were secured to the teacher’s wrists, ankles and waist, tying him to a bed, and meant he was unable to feed himself or use a toilet.
“I was there when the restraints were put on. He wasn’t resisting, he wasn’t struggling, there was no violence,” Patrick Savage told the Guardian.
“He definitely needed to go to hospital because he wasn’t in a good state and he shouldn’t be left free to run around completely, but he was already in a locked room, a locked ward.”
During Savage’s stay at the Yamato, his brother said he was asked to purchase adult nappies by hospital staff who told him Kelly would be restrained “for a long time”.
His family says relatives were prevented from visiting him in hospital for more than a week because it was Golden Week – a festival holiday in Japan – and the hospital said it was understaffed. When his family was allowed to see him, his mother said he was sedated and “pretty much out of it” due to strong medication.
During visits with his brother and father, they say Kelly begged them to help him escape the ward, and said he feared he would die there.
On 10 May he had a heart attack and was transferred to the cardiology unit of a different hospital. He fell into a coma and died seven days later when his heart stopped beating.
Although the autopsy was inconclusive, Martha Savage told the Guardian that the attending cardiologist said Kelly showed classic signs of deep vein thrombosis, which could have lead to a pulmonary embolism. Another possible cause of death was a reaction to the strong medication he was on, though this was less likely.
“They did give him compression stockings but that was the only measure they took,” Martha said of the hospital’s care for her son during his lengthy period of restraint.
“They didn’t massage his feet or exercise him or let him out of the restraints. They told us they didn’t do anything.”
A spokesman for Yamato municipal hospital said he could not comment on individual patients. The Guardian has submitted several follow-up questions to the hospital about its policy on restraining patients.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture has called for an absolute ban on the use of restraint in healthcare settings, as excessive or unjustified use could amount to torture as defined by the UN.
The Savage family is now campaigning for full access to Kelly’s medical records, which are being held by the hospital, and calling for the end to long periods of restraint in Japanese psychiatric hospitals, which they call barbaric and “medieval”.
Martha Savage told the Guardian that if her son had been cared for in New Zealand he would probably still be alive today.
“It has been horrible and we are terribly sad,” she said. “We want something good to come out of this so other people never have to go through the same thing we did. We want to stop this happening to other people.”