Express News Service
TIRUPUR: Time is crucial for N Sundarajan. It was midnight when a friend from Palladam town called. The 46-year-old — quick on his feet as usual — rode down to Ponni Hospital, four kilometers away. A youngster had died in a terrible road accident.It was 1 am when Sundarajan reached. There is no a right time to convince heart-broken parents to donate their son’s eyes. But the eyes could still ‘live’ through someone else. With this, Sundarajan was one step closer to his goal of bringing vision to another.
“With the hospital’s help, I act as a bridge between the deceased and the visually impaired,” says Sundarajan. All I want is to eradicate blindness, he declares. His mission makes him work round-the-clock as the eyes of the deceased person must be collected within six hours of the death. One of the most recognized faces in the Palladam taluk of Tiruppur, Sundarajan has been convincing kin of accident victims and those who died of natural causes to donate the deceased’s eyes.
The turning point in Sundarajan’s life came up when his relatives decided to harvest the eyes of his deceased grandmother in 2010. That was when, he recollects, he began working on his social cause. “After my grandmother, Rajammal, died of natural causes, my relatives decided to donate her eyes. My dentist friend directed me to a private hospital. Medical professionals, including an eye doctor, harvested her eyes. It was then I decided to start persuading people to donate their deceased kin’s eyes,” he recalls.
Over the past 11 years, he has been able to collect over 442 pairs of eyes across Palladam, Tiruppur city, Kangeyam and Dharapuram. This dedication earned him several awards from NGOs and hospitals across Tiruppur. While his professional life deals with an automobile bodybuilding workshop here, Sundarajan never forgets his mission for vision.
Donation of eyes is as delicate a process as the organ. Listing out the formalities, he explains, “The eyes of the deceased could be donated even if the person had not formally pledged it for donation or registered in an eye bank. After penning a letter in front of two witnesses, the deceased’s relatives may take the decision on the matter. Certain health conditions make some inligible for donation.” But getting permission for harvesting eyes is the toughest part, he adds.
It has not been a smooth journey for Sundarajan. There were times when he was verbally abused for approaching families. Recalling one such incident, he says, “I got a call from a woman whose mother had died in a village in Palladam. The deceased’s sisters refused to allow us to harvest the eyes. They chased me out of the house.”
Sundarajan has also routinely encountered beliefs such as removing the eyes that make the deceased blind in heaven. He devised a foolproof plan: “I approach an influential person from the family and convince them about the donation. They are better placed to convince the kin.”
Sundarajan has been able to collect not just eyes but engaging memories. He recalls a time when he helped harvest an elderly man’s eyes at a graveyard at night, using only the lights from an ambulance. “Once, at Velampalayam, I saw some youngsters near the market carrying garlands for an elderly man who had died.” He persuaded the man’s kin to donate the eyes but recalls the hospitals were unable to send personnel that day and the kin were in a hurry to bury the body.
“At the graveyard, the team completed the harvest in a few minutes,” he states.It is this dedication that helped him build a team of volunteers in parts of Tiruppur. With ten volunteers, he hopes to give others the gift of vision.