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Eye donation – a precious gift

Shastry V. Mallady
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Gifting eyes is gifting sight — eye donation is now a growing trend in Madurai

Patients wait in the Cornea Clinic of Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai.Photo:R. Ashok
Patients wait in the Cornea Clinic of Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai.Photo:R. Ashok

Does the willingness to donate eyes end with just filling the pledge form in an eye bank? Is Madurai catching up in eye donation?

Eye donation appears to be picking up with people who never approached an eye bank coming forward to donate eyes when someone died in the family.

The family of 49-year-old Ravi Chidambaram of Sadhasiva Nagar here among the recent additions to the eye donor list. The gesture of a family member calling the eye bank of Aravind Eye Hospital on January 9 has motivated others in the family. “It was a spot decision taken by me when my 68-year-old aunt Meena Marimuthu died in Pudukottai last month. When her body was brought to Madurai, I convinced my relatives to donate her eyes. Immediately, we called Aravind hospital and a medical team collected the cornea within six hours of her death. Today, other aged persons in my family want to donate their eyes after death,” says Mr. Chidambaram.

Fear of disfigurement

But there was initial apprehension among his relatives that the eyes might get disfigured once donated. But doubts were set aside after they realised that his aunt’s eyes would give the gift of sight to two others. “It is important to make the call to the eye bank at the right time rather than just filling an donor pledge form and forgetting about it,” he says.

Corneas in demand

Ophthalmologists say corneal blindness is a major challenge, and availability of corneas far below the requirement. N.Venkatesh Prajna, Chief of Cornea Clinic, Aravind Eye Hospital, says pledging of eyes is not a direct marker for eye donation. He cites the example of a family in Madurai which came forward to donate eyes as a social cause.

A spontaneous offer

A senior railway employee in Madurai lost his 23-year-old son a month back, and in that moment of grief he called Dr. Prajna to say, “You helped him with cataract surgery when he was alive. Now, you must again help my son by grafting his eyes and giving sight to persons waiting to see the world.” Dr. Prajna recalls, “This boy had renal problem for some time. He was working in a company in Chennai and I did cataract surgery on him a year back. When his father called me, I was moved. We grafted his son’s eyes and they were used for two young persons.”

In Madurai, corneal grafting is performed only at Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) and the Aravind Eye Hospital. Both have a memorandum of understanding to encourage eye donation through grief counsellors who talk to family members when a death occurs.

Eye donation is encouraging in the Department of Ophthalmology of GRH. For the first time, its eye bank has crossed the 100 cornea mark and it has become eligible to apply for additional funds from the National Eye Bank Association of India.

P. Thiyagarajan, Professor and Head of Department of Ophthalmology, GRH, and Programme Manager of District Blindness Control Society, says eye donation is picking up owing to the success of the Hospital Cornea Retrieval Programme. “As per last year’s study, India requires one lakh corneas but only 22,000 usable corneas were available. The GRH eye bank collected 110 corneas since April last year. I find that people have started realising the importance of eye donation,” he says.


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