By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
The morning started off just like any other for Yuriko Kato. She and her husband, Chris Christopher, helped their two daughters, Sumomo, 10, and Ayura, 7, get ready for the day at their apartment in Torrance.
As she sent Chris off to take the kids to school, she asked him, “Why don’t you take the chicken we cooked last night for lunch?” He replied, “I’ll eat it when I come home tonight, so keep it for me.”
That was the last conversation Yuriko had with her husband.
Chris had a heart attack at work that day and passed away four days later on March 17, 2013. He was 40 years old.
“Who could’ve imagined something like this would happen to somebody perfectly healthy and health conscious? But he was gone, just like that.” Even six months since his passing, Yuriko still has a hard time believing Chris is gone.
Chris, who grew up in Inglewood, received a scholarship to play basketball at Arkansas State University. He tried out for the Portland Trail Blazers and aspired to become an NBA player until he broke his ankle.
After coming back to California, he took good care of his health by working out regularly and eating a healthy diet. He was confident about his physical condition.
“I think that confidence prevented him from getting routine checkups. He didn’t see a doctor unless he was really sick. If he had gotten a full checkup….” Yuriko regrets she didn’t push him hard enough.
After going into cardiac arrest for 20 minutes, Chris was miraculously resuscitated, but he was unable to breathe on his own. On the second day at an emergency room, Yuriko was told that Chris was considered brain-dead.
She doesn’t remember what happened after that because she collapsed and was admitted to the same hospital.
Yuriko lost sight in her left eye and hearing in her left ear. She is experiencing numbness on the left side of her body. The doctor believes she had a small stroke due to extreme stress, but there is still no definitive diagnosis.
Because the hospital to which they both were admitted is considered out-of-network by their medical insurance, the bills have totaled close to 100,000 dollars. They did not have life insurance.
“We’d talked about it before, but at that time, we thought we were still young and healthy,” said Yuriko.
Get Up 8, a local non-profit organization, is raising funds to help Yuriko pay the hospital bills and obtain necessary treatments for her own medical condition through their annual signature event, The Auction, next Saturday.
The organization was established last year by a small group of friends in Southern California who believed in the importance of a strong, well-supported community.
Ryan Okita, a member of the board of directors, says, “We see people in our community, like Yuriko, who needed help, but are not receiving it. We didn’t want to just sit back and do nothing. So we formed an organization that helps people more on a personal basis.”
All ten members of Get Up 8’s board of directors are volunteers. They raise funds through an annual outrigger race in the spring and the auction event in the fall to help people who have fallen on hard times and need assistance to overcome their challenges.
Jason Shimizu, one of the board members, works with Yuriko. After hearing her story, he encouraged her to accept Get Up 8’s help. However, being independent since she was young, it wasn’t easy for her to receive help from “strangers.”
But this time, she had to think about her daughters who lost their father. Yuriko also realized, “Some people really care about me. It took me a while to understand that. Words cannot describe how thankful I am. I now find a small ray of hope in the midst of this struggle.”
Get Up 8’s second annual signature event, “The Auction” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 6 p.m. at Brea Community Center, 695 E. Madison Way, Brea. Cost: $100 for dinner, drinks, and desserts as well as entrance into live and silent auctions.
This year, there will be four live auctions with multiple chances to win cash and prizes including a 60-inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV, two Disneyland Premium Annual Passes, a 13.3” MacBook Air Laptop, and a 32GB 4th Generation Apple iPad.