Last Tuesday, nearly eight-month-old Kanniammal saw the world for the first time.

The third child of K. Murugan and Telagavathi, who hail from a village in Walajapet taluk in Vellore district, Kanniammal was born completely blind. “We did not know what was wrong with her. It was only when she was two months old, we noticed a spot in one of her eyes and took her to a nearby doctor,” said Mr. Murugan, a stone-quarry worker.

Then began rounds of a series of hospitals, at the end of which, Mr. Murugan said, they still did not know what was wrong with their baby.

Ms. Telagavathi, who had been ill towards the end of the pregnancy, was also frantic. In January, the couple arrived in Chennai along with their older, two-year-old daughter, leaving the eldest one behind with her grandparents, and began visiting hospitals here.

Through luck and a family connection, they arrived at Rajan Eye Care Hospital. “We did a thorough check-up of the baby and found she had mature cataracts in both eyes, as well as retinal defect in her right eye. The cause, we believe, is a rubella infection,” said Mohan Rajan, chairman and medical director of the hospital.

The virus, Dr. Rajan said, had also caused an atrial septal defect in the baby’s heart.

A three-and-a-half-hour complicated surgery later, Kanniammal began responding to light. Her pupils moved about, and now, her mother said, she has begun recognising her parents.

“What made the surgery complicated was the anaesthesia. For such a small child, anaesthesia has to be given very carefully and only after a full work-up. Fortunately, she responded very well and though she cried a lot after the surgery, she is doing fine now,” said Dr. Rajan.

Lenses were custom-made for her and placed in her eyes, but Kanniammal may need glasses later as she grows, he said. According to Dr. Rajan, India is the largest producer of childhood blindness in the world. “In order to screen children and detect the problem early, we have started several projects in villages. The first three months are crucial as that is when a baby’s vision develops, and so, the earlier a diagnosis is made, and treatment given, the better the chances of recovery,” he said.

Mr. Murugan has not worked since Kanniammal was born. “I was ready to take a loan for her treatment but Dr. Rajan performed the surgery completely free of cost,” he said. “The surgery cost Rs. 1.5 lakh but was performed free under the Rota Vision project,” said Dr. Rajan.

After a visit to the temple on Sunday, the family will head back home.

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