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Drama captures hardships, joys of neonatal care

© TBS

Toddler Jin makes an appearance in “Konodori” with actors playing his parents and doctor.

By Naoko Kimura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterIn an examination room with children’s toys, a doctor places a stethoscope on a toddler wearing medical tubes. “OK, good. You’re doing great,” he says, at which the boy’s parents look relieved.

This was the first scene of the second season of “Konodori,” a TV drama that began airing in mid-October. The first episode featured a young boy with a chromosomal abnormality called Trisomy 18. In this scene, the boy’s parents have brought him to a hospital where he has received treatment for the condition in the past. The child is played by Jin, 2, affectionately called Jin-chan, who has the disease in reality.

In the medical drama, currently airing at 10 p.m. on Fridays on the TBS network, actual babies are instrumental to depicting intense scenes of neonatal care — and not just healthy infants, but also those fighting serious illnesses. Their parents hope that through their babies’ appearances, viewers will come to better understand the reality that they face.

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  • © TBS

    Go Ayano as Dr. Sakura Konotori

Trisomy 18 causes the functioning of the heart and lungs to weaken, often making it difficult for children born with the disorder to live a long life. Jin, who takes in oxygen and nutrients through medical tubes in real life, was about 6 months old when he appeared in the final episode of the drama’s first series in 2015.

In the story, his parents at first find it hard to accept their son’s condition but eventually take him home, thanks to the support of people around them. The drama’s second season starts with the family, now living a peaceful life together, making a follow-up visit to the hospital.

The drama is based on You Suzunoki’s manga of the same title, which is serialized in the Morning manga magazine published by Kodansha Ltd. Protagonist Sakura Konotori, played by Go Ayano in the drama, is an obstetrician-gynecologist and a pianist.

The show’s first season depicts the various human dramas surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, including the dilemmas facing parents, family bonds and the trust between parents and medical workers. The 10-episode series earned acclaim for adopting a realistic approach backed by research at hospitals, with its average viewer rating a respectable 11.5 percent in the Kanto region, according to Video Research.

The new season picks up 18 months after the end of the previous one and focuses on how Sakura and several other characters have developed in their respective careers. It is mostly set in the ob-gyn department where Sakura works, but sometimes shifts to the neonatal intensive care unit to cover issues regarding perinatal care.

Because the drama accurately depicts the reality of premature and other high-risk births, it necessarily features not only healthy infants, but also young children with life-threatening symptoms or those who require special treatment after being born underweight.

“I want to share with Jin-chan’s parents the happiness of seeing him doing so well after two years that he can take part in the shoot again,” said Katsuaki Toyoshima, the real-life doctor in charge of the boy’s health at the Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center in Yokohama.

Toyoshima, the head of the neonatology department at the prefectural institution, also acts as a go-between for the drama’s creative staff and the children who make appearances. Last season, he helped the staff film the center’s NICU ward.

“Some people may object to letting newborn, sick or premature infants appear on TV,” Toyoshima said. “However, all parents share the feeling that their children are beautiful, and deserve recognition for how hard they’re working. The drama is fiction, but I wanted the staff to shoot the reality.”

The doctor adds he feels rewarded for his coordination efforts because many parents of seriously ill or premature babies willingly accept the offer for their children to appear on the show. He also ensures the production team puts priority on the infants’ condition, so as not to place an undue burden on the children and their families.

Producer Sanae Suzuki has been key in negotiating the children’s appearances since the start of the first season. “All the members of the cast and staff consider the babies to be the second protagonist,” she said.

As soon as the decision was made to go ahead with the second season, Suzuki contacted Jin’s family to request he make another appearance. The family gladly agreed and excitedly awaited the start of shooting, she said.

“We’ve raised him even though we didn’t know what would happen tomorrow,” Jin’s mother said. “We’ve gone about our lives over the past two years, and now we can take part in the drama again. We feel very grateful.”

The toddler’s parents were there to watch the filming of their son’s scene. After the shoot, they enjoyed reuniting with the actors who played them.

Jin, who turned 2 in June, is not always in stable condition.

“His scenes perfectly capture how far he has come, and this is why they’re capable of moving viewers so much,” Suzuki said. “Some children are healthy from birth, while others are not. We’d like to portray the happiness of each and every child.”Speech

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