On a train in Tokyo in late June, Derek Smith told his wife, Hatsumi, he wasn’t feeling well and that he needed to get off the train as soon as possible. The Ellicott City business owners were on their way to Hatsumi’s father’s funeral when the pair exited the train at a stop near a U.S. military base.
When they got off the train, they were greeted by medical personnel. That’s when Derek’s heart stopped beating.
“I was fading in and out a lot,” he said in a phone interview last week.
Derek said he doesn’t recall getting two shocks to the heart but remembers “laying down on the stretcher” and station personnel holding up a blanket, creating a makeshift wall to shield inquiring eyes, he said.
As a result of the treatment at the station, transportation to a hospital and emergency heart surgery, the couple was charged a high medical bill, the bulk of which they have paid out of pocket.
The Smiths, co-owners of historic Ellicott City restaurant Matcha Time Cafe, have had difficulty paying for the expenses. The couple was nearing the end of their Japan trip when Derek’s medical crisis put them in a financial pickle.
The hospital bills, the temporary apartment where they reside and the “heart-healthy meals” Derek has to eat until he gets better are expensive, said Sara Arditti, a close friend of Hatsumi.
The Smiths said they cannot leave for the United States until a doctor clears Derek for flying. Even when they get back, Derek said he is unsure how he will continue his job as an IT consultant because his mental awareness has not been the same since the incident.
Arditti is spearheading an online campaign to raise money for the couple to come back home. As of Wednesday, 251 donors had raised $21,366 of a $25,000 goal.
“They went from two income strains to zero,” Arditti said. “They’re in financial disaster zone at this point.”
Arditti said Matcha Time Cafe, which sells ramen, tea and sushi, is open intermittently with a limited menu but is largely closed because of the couple’s absence.
Arditti has organized a fundraiser party at Matcha Time Cafe, 3785 Hamilton St., from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. She said former Howard county executive Allan Kittleman and his wife, Robin, have volunteered to serve food to those who attend.