On 20th September, a medical team from the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation was seen departing from Kathmandu and making their way towards Dolakha – a picturesque hilltop town under the shadows of Nepal’s majestic Himalayas. In the district, a screening team had already begun their efforts two weeks ago – reaching remote corners of the district to identify as many patients with cataract blindness as possible. After conducting ten screening camps and checking the eyesight of 1576 people, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation identified more than 150 patients living with cataract blindness. They were each assigned a surgery date.
Once at the camp, the recently arrived medical team immediately get down to their task – of setting up the operating theatre in preparation for the high volume cataract surgery program to be conducted over the next three days.
The next day, patients from different walks of life are seen arriving at the camp from early morning. The medical team from the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, under the leadership of co-founder Dr. Sanduk Ruit, who is also referred to as God of Sight for his efforts to curing preventable blindness in the developing world conducted 65 surgeries on the first day of the camp. On the second day, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation conducted 63 surgeries, and on the last day, 35 surgeries. Each patient was ecstatic to have their sight restored – and was overjoyed when they were able to see again.
10 year old Jesika Poudel receives a second chance to sight
On the second day, a ten year old girl arrived at the camp with her father. Visually nervous, she clutched on to her father’s hand as the ophthalmic assistant asked her about her vision. Speaking to her father Bishnu Poudel, a team member from the foundation learnt that Jesika had started complaining about difficulty in seeing the classroom’s blackboard since two years.
Bishnu, Jesika’s father is a migrant worker – working in India’s informal hospitality sector, he was forced to return home in 2020 after the pandemic triggered a national lockdown in India. At home, he and his wife constantly worried about their daughter’s deteriorating vision by the day. Things had gotten so worse that she was unable to see anything during the night. After schools reopened in 2021, she continued to struggle in the classroom.
When the screening team arrived in his village, Bishnu brought her there. The screening team confirmed that Jesika suffered from congenital cataracts, and that she would have to undergo surgery. The health assistants also told him that there is a chance Jesika would have to be taken to Kathmandu for her surgery. “Nevertheless, you should come to the camp – the doctors will be able to confirm if they can operate upon her at the camp”, an eye health assistant had told Bishnu.
Therefore, with hope in his heart, and his daughter by his hand, Bishnu arrived at the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation screening camp. After Dr. Sagar Ruit checked Jesika’s eye, he confirmed that her surgery could indeed take place at the camp itself. Bishnu breathed a sigh of relief. He called his wife back home and gave her the good news.
Jesika’s surgery was therefore performed by Dr. Sanduk Ruit – world recognized eye surgeon and co-founder of the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation. The next day, after her patches were removed, she told the doctor that she could see clearly. The doctor asked Jesika to recognize her father who was looking at his daughter from a distance. She instantly recognized him.
Bishnu came forward, and after Jesika shared a much elusive smile, her father, who was overwhelmed with emotion, broke down in tears.
He sobbed with joy that his daughter was able to see again – after all her blindness not only threatened her vision, but also her future. Now, she could live a life without a visual impairment, attend school along with her friends, play like everyone else, and have an equal opportunity in life – just like everyone else.
Manita receives a second chance to sight
Around one and a half year ago, amidst a raging pandemic and large stay at home orders, Manita’s vision began to deteriorate. She couldn’t seek immediate medical attention. Her husband, who worked in Kathmandu’s informal construction sector, had lost his job due to the pandemic, and the family was sustaining themselves with limited resources. They had to wait until they could go the doctor’s.
She was only able to visit the doctor two months ago. The doctor confirmed that she had cataracts, and that she would have to undergo surgery. Manita and her husband shared their woes to the doctor – that they did not have money for the surgery. Luckily, the doctor was aware of an upcoming microsurgical camp in the district by the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation.
The doctor shared with them the scheduled dates, and Manita, along with her cousin was one of the first patients to arrive at the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation microsurgical camp in Dolakha on 21st September, 2021.
“I had been waiting for this day for a long time. I left home at 4 a.m. in the morning”, she told a Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation team member. “My sight is very important to me. My children’s education is being affected as they have to constantly help me with household work”.
Manita’s surgery was conducted by Dr. Sanduk Ruit, co-founder of the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, and a globally recognized eye surgeon. He is revered worldwide for his efforts to cure blindness in the developing world, and has conducted more than 130,000 surgeries till date. With the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, British philanthropist Mr Tej Kohli has joined hands with Dr. Ruit to conduct 500,000 cataract surgeries in the developing world by 2026.
The next day, Manita waits patiently alongside 64 other patients who were treated on the first day of the microsurgical camp. After Dr. Ruit carefully removes her patch, Manita slowly opens her eye – to a life free from visual impairment.
“Until yesterday, I couldn’t see clearly. But today, I am able to see everything clearly. I am very grateful to everyone who helped me see again”, she shares.
Blindness and dependency: The unaccounted economic cost of preventable blindness
Lalit Bahadur Magar is a 95 year old man who lives in the remote Himalayan outback of Nepal. With one eye irreparably damaged, and the other with a mature cataract, he is completely blind. He also does not have any immediate family – therefore lives in the care of his daughter’s son.
Muna, Lalit’s daughter’s son’s wife is 40, and is already burdened with the responsibility of looking after her husband, her children, and the household. Additionally, she is also tasked with the care of Lalit. However, Muna loves Lalit too much, and is not able to neglect or abandon him at this age.
Lalit and Muna’s story of blindness is a classic example of how blindness affects not one but many. Much of Muna’s time is spent taking care of Lalit – the unaccounted economic cost of preventable blindness. “If he could see, I would have one less responsibility – and possibly contribute to the family’s household income via working in the field, or picking up other odd jobs in the village”, she tells us.
For this reason, and one ray of hope that may be the old man could see his great grandchildren again, when a screening team from the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation arrived at her village, she resolved to take Lalit to the camp. And so she did – with great persuasion and difficulty. Lalit was not convinced that his sight could be restored, and Muna’s husband also believed that this whole exercise could be futile. The fact that Lalit also suffered from existing mental health conditions did not help.
However Muna was determined. She left her children in her husband’s care, and brought him to the camp. There, after an assessment by Ophthalmic Assistants, Lalit’s referral moved forward to surgery. His surgery was dexterously performed by Dr. Sanduk Ruit, global eye health hero, and co-founder of the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation. Within seven minutes, Lalit was on his way to seeing again – an unbelievable sight more so for Muna than Lalit himself.