G. Vasudharini (17) should have started college this year but has just been admitted to class VIII. She lost five years of schooling to preventable blindness.

Vasudharini’s parents are first cousins. The couple have four daughters and all of them suffer from corneal dystrophy, a condition which may be asymptomatic initially, but might require treatment including surgery at a later date.

Among the sisters, Vasudharini suffered the most. She was brought to Rajan Eye Care Hospital when she was 10 and underwent a corneal transplant. But her parents did not return for a follow-up.

“She couldn’t keep her eyes open. She was blind with photophobia and had to drop out of school. She could not even watch TV,” said Sujatha Mohan, who realised the surgery to correct Vasudharini’s vision had proved a waste. After her father’s death last year, Vasudharini’s maternal grandfather M. Shanmugam brought her to the hospital for consultation.

Vasudharini underwent another transplant in her left eye. Four months ago, Dr. Sujatha performed an anterior lamellar corneal transplant (involving the four damaged layers of the cornea). On Wednesday, Vasudharini had a check-up.

As she is young, she would recover her sight, the doctor said. She will also be given treatment to correct the squint she has developed from favouring her good eye.

Vasudharini’s 10-year-old sister has also undergone a transplant but her older sisters suffer from a milder form of the condition.

Mohan Rajan, medical director of the hospital, said 60 per cent of corneal blindness due to birth defects occurs in children below the age of 15 years. Of this, anywhere between 25 and 50 per cent of children are at risk for birth defects due to consanguinity.

“If you can eradicate it effectively to a large extent we can prevent blindness. In India, close to one million children below the age of 15 are blind,” he added.

The fortnight between August 25 and September 8 is observed as National Eye Donation fortnight

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