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Simply Great!

Posted by Infinitheism Admin on October 14th, 2013 and filed under Featured, Success Stories

The Vision of the Visionary!

He epitomises ‘Service to humanity is service to god’, so much so that his values and sense of purpose have percolated down his noble institution. Read about the visionary Dr.Badrinath.


Most of us who have been granted an efficiently functioning body, with all organs in place, take health for granted. Most of us who have been blessed with eyesight can only frailly attempt to understand what it means to be blind, what it means to live in a colourless world devoid of form. What would be a greater gift than to be able to play a part in restoring the vision of thousands and giving their lives a new meaning? What would it feel like to be running a pioneering institution rendering such immeasurable service to the nation? We met up with Dr.S.S.Badrinath, the founder of Sankara Nethralaya, to find answers to these questions, and happened to come across someone who combines in his towering person humility, grace, charismatic leadership, tender assertiveness and genuine respect for all. Meet the founder and the visionary, who attributes all success to the fabulous team at Sankara Nethralaya.

Where did it all start?
In India, we have the advantage of strong family ties. I lost my parents at a very early age and was brought up by the family. The atmosphere at home deeply influenced my thinking. The family held on to a simple, uncomplicated thought that we should do what we can for the society. I did my Ophthalmology training in the United States of America, which afforded me a balanced approach of theoretical and practical training. After training in the United States for almost seven and a half years, I returned to India in 1970 and started my practice. In 1974, I had the greatest fortune of operating on the Paramacharya of Kancheepuram, who subsequently called upon a group of us to serve the society through the medical field. Thus 1978, through the conversion of a private practice into institutional practice, saw the birth of Sankara Nethralaya in the confines of Vijaya Hospital. Late Sri B.Nagi Reddy was kind enough to offer the required space for that, to allow the nurturing of another institution within his own. By god’s grace, we procured land and shifted to our own campus within 6 months. An organisation like this requires enormous financial outlay, which I could not provide as an individual. Therefore, I started it as a non-profit registered society.

Many regard the medical field as a profession. How did you manage to put together a service-oriented team?
I always had this question that if engineers passing out of premier institutes like IIT could take up salaried jobs, why couldn’t doctors work in institutions for a salary? Having set up a registered society, I made it a full-time, one-institution practice of Ophthalmology at Sankara Nethralaya. The institution paid a salary and consultants were not allowed to practice outside. I realised that the mixing of private practice and institutional practice has its own disadvantages and drawbacks, as does multi-institutional practice. At the same time, the institution must protect the interest of medical professionals. So we offered liberal perks and functioned with the sole objective of providing an academic atmosphere, independence in management of cases and in publications arising out of research, and participation in professional meetings and conferences. This was intended to give professional satisfaction to the consultants working as full timers without a private practice. This policy has, by and large, worked out well and there are many who have been with us since the inception. Many have also left and set up their own private practice. The institution was started as a teaching and training institute of standards similar to the United States. Our academic pursuits also made us stay abreast of the scientific advancements in other parts of the world. The standard of our training as well as the work environment brought many to our organisation and gradually we grew in staff strength.

Your research facilities and findings are at par with the best in the world. How do you achieve and sustain that?
As we grew, the need for having highly specialised and well-trained people became apparent. I asked my colleagues to take up different specialities and thus we have many sub-specialities within our fold. Moreover, we have four to five people in each sub-speciality, so that work can continue even in someone’s absence. The concept of developing a complete institution for eye care thus became a reality. Here, we encourage cross-consultation, as one cannot be an expert in all specialities, to provide patients the best possible care. Our teaching and training are recognised by various universities within India and abroad. We conduct research in both clinical and basic sciences, under the aegis of the Vision Research Foundation. We’ve had many original publications in various international journals.

In today’s times, when health care has become so commercialised, how do you manage to provide such quality treatment without any discrimination, free of cost?
38% of our patients avail completely free surgical care in our institution. We offer free service to the public in all specialities, keeping in mind only the economic condition. We maintain our standard of quality, irrespective of whether the treatment is free or chargeable. Our outreach programs cover places 150 km around Chennai. We reach the villages through our tele-ophthalmology services. Technicians in a van, loaded with instruments and equipment, beam the images to doctors at Sankara Nethralaya, who view the images, interact with the patient and prescribe a course of treatment. ISRO is helping us in a big way in developing tele-ophthalmology.

What are the causes of blindness?
Glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, uncorrected refractive errors and damage to the cornea result in blindness. Owing to the concerted efforts of various national and international agencies, the blindness rate has come down from 1.9/1000 to 0.9/1000 as per recent surveys.

However, as always, prevention is better than cure. A routine eye exam is a must, and must be done even before the child starts school. Refractive errors, squints, lazy eye, vitamin A deficiency, etc. can be identified and treated at this age. We must be careful to observe if children are holding their books very close, etc., and must not treat lightly their complaints regarding vision. Examination and correction of refractive errors will ensure that the child receives proper visual inputs. This will consequently ensure the development of the child, especially of the intelligence. It would be ideal to take such corrective steps in time. After the age of 40, a complete eye exam must be done to detect increased intraocular pressure, glaucoma and other systemic diseases such as BP and diabetes. A diabetic should get his eyes tested periodically. The eye is the window to the rest of the body and enables an opportunity for early diagnosis. If treatments are followed in accordance with strict guidelines, blindness can be prevented through such routine eye exams. 80% of all blindness is curable.

Can you tell us about eye donation?
The eyes of the deceased have to be donated to an eye bank within six hours of demise. The kith and kin of the deceased have to give permission for the removal of the eyes. The procedure to remove eyes is very simple and can be done where the body of the deceased is kept for relatives to pay their last respects. This does not cause any disfigurement on the face. Donated eyes can be stored in a refrigerator for a period of two days, occasionally even up to five days if they are preserved in a specific solution. The success rate in cases of eye donation is over 85%.

What drives you?
Seeing that there’s so much to be done and that things ought to be done in a perfect manner with quality as the end result motivate me to work hard. The most important motivating factor, however, is the opportunities available.

You are doing god’s work. What is the role of spirituality in your workplace?
Every medical professional is doing a great service to humanity. Every organ is equally important. Only when one loses something does he realise its importance. I strongly believe in the axiom ‘but for Him nothing moves’. We aren’t doing anything. We are only instruments in His hands, and certain things are carried out in this world through us. I am a firm believer in spirituality; science without spirituality is zero.

What is the vision of the organisation that gives vision to so many people?
Our vision is to create more surgeons and more Nethralayas in India, to bring in professional systems and procedures in our functioning, and to be at the forefront of Ophthalmic research, so as to ensure cost-effective quality care for all.
Simply Great: “I would prefer that you focus on the institution than the person,” he told us at the start of the interview. “Then again, with my answers, I can always lead you to where I want to take you,” he added. This he most certainly did, but not without stopping at all the junctions we wanted to break at. He led us along the same path he has led many, albeit with a difference. What we inferred was an analytical mind, noble intentions, modesty coupled with empowering confidence, unflinching faith, undeniable respect for teamwork, and a quest for excellence in his endeavour to provide quality eye care to all. Literally a father to this mighty institution doing god’s work, Dr.Badrinath is truly Simply Great!

Every medical professional is doing a great service to humanity. Every organ is equally important. Only when one loses something does he realise its importance. I strongly believe in the axiom ‘but for Him nothing moves’. We aren’t doing anything. We are only instruments in His hands, and certain things are carried out in this world through us. I am a firm believer in spirituality; science without spirituality is zero.

- ARK & Preeta Krishna

One Response to “Simply Great!”

  1. Yadhunath Srinivasan says:

    I am deeply humbled. I have, of course, known about Dr.Badrinath as would most people who lived sometime or other in Madras. I have also heard about his association with Paramacharya and how the hospital concept and its funding became a reality though I don’t remember them in graphic details now. It’s people like this who seem to compensate for rest of us folks by doing such service. Indeed if many of us pushed ourselves to doing much better in this world, the world will be a much better place to live in. I bow in respect to this great soul.

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