Bequeathing Vision


For the first time in history, 13 blind or one-eyed patients underwent eye transplants in Srinagar’s SMHS hospital and started seeing again, some after decades. The cornea had come from unknown donors from outside Kashmir, Muhammad Younis reports

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Muhammad Yusuf Kalas

Muhammad Yusuf Kalas, 55, is full with optimism of finally seeing the world through both of his eyes, the hope which he had given up years ago. Courtesy goes to the people who donate their eyes from all over the world.

Lying on a bed of Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar’s Ophthalmology ward, Yusuf, with bandage wrapped over his right eye, has retrieved his senses after a long three hour surgery. The opaque diseased cornea of his eye was replaced with that of a healthy donor cornea.

Since birth, Yusuf has been suffering from vascular corneal opacity, one of the eye problems, which leads to scarring or clouding of the cornea, resulting into the decrease of vision and even blindness. Once the bandages will be removed, doctors say he will start seeing again.

The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped area that covers the front of the eye. Light passes through it before reaching the retina in the back of the eye, wherefrom the visual cycle is initiated. It has to remain clear so that light can traverse. Corneal clouding occurs due to a host of factors like trauma, infections, malnutrition, deformities and congenital factors.

Even after many years of treatment, when Yusuf found no recovery in his sight, he was advised by many to go to the eye surgery hospital at Amritsar to get operated; the hospitals in J&K then lacked the required equipment, man power, and the license for the same.

Yusuf is a shepherd, hailing from a distant village Kelar located in the mountain of Shopian. Apart from a couple of cattle, from which he tries to eke out a mere living for his family, conmprising his wife and a son, he has no other means, with which he could have made the required savings for the operation.

“I didn’t have money for the fare, let alone the charges of the operation, which according to the doctors would summarily be Rs 3.5 lakh,” Yousuf said. “So gradually I started to believe that one day I may die with the longing to see through my eye unfulfilled.”

It was on July 18,  2016, that GMC’s ophthalmology department, after a struggle of three years to make the required arrangements, were finally successful to get a license,. After buying the equipment, costing around Rs 40 lakh, they got the license as well through Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA). Under HOTA, kidneys, liver, heart and corneas, can be recovered in the event of death for transplantation from people who might have willed it when they were alive. The organs will give patients with organ failure another chance at life.

Just three days later, July 21, the operation of first of its kind was started by specialists – Dr Shahnawaz, Dr Aliya and Dr Umer – in the hospital. The three patients, whose dysfunctional corneas were replaced that day, showed signs of eye sight recovery immediately.

According to Dr Tariq Qureshi, head of the ophthalmology department at SHMS hospital, 30 people from across the valley have registered for cornea transplants in the hospital. “So far, 13 cornea transplants that we have performed till now were successful by the grace of God. 17 are yet to be carried out. All of them are free of cost,” Qureshi said.

Among the 13 people already operated upon, eight were fully blind. The rest five were in one eye only; among them the last two, Yusuf and another Raja Begum, 50, on bed 6 of ward 7, from Mamer Kangan of Ganderbal district, were operated on Monday. From the remaining 17 whose surgeries are yet to be done, a dozen are fully blind.

Since the facility became operational in the hospital, two to three cornea transplant surgeries are performed every week here, and the process of making the procedure more regular is underway, which according to Qureshi can be possible only when people support them. “By support, we mean that people register themselves for eye donations.”

Indian council of medical research (ICMR) survey reports that 25% of blinds in India are due to corneal blindness. In India 65 lakh people suffer from the same. The annual cornea donation is around 30000,much below the need. This demand supply disparity has been a reason, according to experts, of huge backlog with unending waiting periods.

According to Qureshi, people in Kashmir are showing reluctance to go for eye donations, because of many reasons. Misconceptions about the eye donation may be the one. “I want to aware them that eye donation is the act of bequeathing one’s eyes only after death,” Qureshi said. “Right now you have only to register. Any person is a potential eye donor. Age is no bar. People with pre-existing eye disorders excluding a very few can also donate eyes.”

Giving it a name of a best charity he said that a donor, by donating his eyes gifts the blind person the wealth of vision – one of the greatest thing that could be given. “Don’t let your eyes perish… donate eyes and help someone see this beautiful world – let your end mark a new beginning.”

Last month, during National Eye Donation fortnight, observed every year from August 25 to September 8, the department had conducted seminars, TV talks and radio talks for the awareness of people vis-à-vis eye donations. “The objective of the programme was to create awareness about the need to donate eyes and to dispel the myths and misconceptions about the eye donation.”

“Unfortunately” only a few dozens of people had participated in the programme. But still Dr Qureshi considers it a breakthrough moment, when Bilqees, a 25 year old woman from Srinagar, pledged her eyes for donation at the eye bank of the hospital, becoming the first person in Kashmir to do so.

Getting inspiration from her, immediately within the following weeks, 10 more persons registered themselves for donating their eyes. “And the big thing is that all of them are students. We want more and more to come up.

“Their inspiration was for sure Bilqees, but the motivation was that they, with their own eyes, saw blind people able to see again, once operated upon in the hospital,” Qureshi said.

Raja Begum

Refuting about the recent media reports, which said that surgeries were done in the hospital on the people who had registered for donations, he said that by now, all the corneas transplanted are being supplied by eye bank association of India and Kashmir.

“People like Bilqees have just registered for donations. So far, we haven’t done any surgeries on them,” Qureshi said. “This is required once they breath their last. Let them live longer.”

Yusuf doesn’t know whose cornea was implanted in his eye, but whoever’s it would be, he is very thankful to.

“I can’t say how thankful I’m to him or her. It is because of that person, I hope to see again. To locate my cattle when they are away,” till now, he would face lot of difficulty while shepherding his herd. “I know the person is dead, so I pray to Allah that he finds his place in Jannah.”


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