Encouraging eye donation

The Rotary Rajan Eye Bank has helped hundreds of people regain their eyesight through cornea transplant, and its chief, Dr Mohan Rajan, says, “People should pledge their eyes while alive, to leave a legacy of sight, just as they make their wills.”

In India, corneal blindness affects approximately 3 to 4 million people and 60 per cent of them are children below 15 years.  In 1996, all eye banks in Chennai received a total of only 3-4 pairs of corneas every day. The demand was tremendous while ­supply meagre. When he travelled to Sri Lanka to meet Ophthalmologist ­Hudson Silva, who championed the concept of corneal donation, Rajan was surprised to learn that a “smaller ­country than ours has surplus ­corneas and is able to export them to 35 ­countries. India with a much larger population should be able to eradicate corneal and childhood blindness.”

Tennis player Vijay Amritraj flanked by Dr Mohan Rajan and spouse Sujatha Mohan at a Rotary Awards event. Also seen are cricketer VVS Laxman (extreme left) and PDG Raja Seenivasan (third from right) among others.

In 1997, RC Madras T Nagar, D 3230, collaborated with the Rajan Eye Bank, and a state-of-art eye bank started. But progress was not without hurdles. Although no religion is against eye donation, superstition and false beliefs come in the way. Rallies, marathons, various competitions for school and college students, printed messages on helmets, stickers for cars, posters, articles in newspapers, and radio shows were used to ­generate interest in eye donation. Later, ­celebrities such as Vijay Amritraj, Rahul Dravid and many others were roped in as eye donation ambassadors for the eye bank.

Age no-bar

The bank is associated with Visranthi Oldage Home which has donated 200 pair of eyes so far. For every donation received by the Home, the bank takes care of the donor’s funeral expenses and an obituary ad is placed in The Hindu. Saraswathiammal, a social activist and freedom fighter, who died at the age of 110, gave sight to two younger patients dispelling the myth that old age was a barrier to donate cornea. The harvest and transplant was executed by the Rotary Rajan Eye Bank which also has tie-up with many hospitals in Chennai to retrieve cornea.

Dr Rajan says the “eye bank has performed more than 6,500 corneal transplants free of cost and we now receive one pair of corneas per day.” But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is “the smile on the recipients’ face after their sight is restored and their gratitude towards the generous donors who made it possible.”

The eye bank is also associated with Rotary’s Gift of Sight (ROGOS), a D 3230 initiative that aims to deliver comprehensive eye care to the community, mainly focusing on corneal blindness in younger people and diabetic retinopathy in older people.

To pledge your eyes with the Rotary Rajan Eye Bank call + 91 98401 77177.


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