Dr Nisheeta Agarwala, ophthalmologist at P D Hinduja Hospital; honorary medical director of ECBRC |
In the year 2000, Varsha Ved, a resident of Ghatkopar who had been working as an accountant for more than a decade then, lost her eyesight after contracting a rare infection. For almost two years, she encountered a blankness that would leave her breathless. “It was so anxiety-inducing. It felt like I was drowning in the blackness,” she said.
Now 62, Ved said she was rendered completely blind on account of corneal damage. She needed a corneal transplant, the awareness about which was negligible then. “Neither I nor anyone in my family had ever heard of it,” she said.
Her son, then a 10-year-old student, would get worried if she left the house for even a minute. "He would come behind me, worrying that I would fall,” she said.
It was after receiving a corneal transplant that Ved was able to see again.
She subsequently decided to dedicate her life to counselling families that have lost a dear one to donate the deceased relative’s eyes. Now associated with hospitals across the city including Cooper Hospital, Nair Hospital and Sion Hospital through the Eye Bank Coordination and Research Center (ECBRC) in Parel, Ved said after her second operation in 2003, she decided not to go back to accountancy. “I reached out to ECBRC who had helped me get the corneal transplant. They trained me and in 2004, I started working with them, positioned at Rajawadi Hospital,” she said.
Dr Nisheeta Agarwala, ophthalmologist at the P D Hinduja Hospital and honorary medical director at the ECBRC, said Ved approached them with the idea of giving back to society because she had gained from a donated cornea. “It was a lost and found for her,” Dr Agarwala said. “She thought it would be one way to tell her story, but also to help others live in a way that others are able to tell the same story.”
Since then, Ved has worked for various hospitals, building their standard operating procedures for eye donation and organ harvesting. “I am working on all days, at all times. I speak to even orthodox families, and tell them my story. Generally, people do get convinced despite religious constraints,” she said.
Since 2004, Ved has managed over 40 patients every month. “I have personally managed the donation of over a thousand eyes now,” she said.
Organ retrievals that stalled during the Covid-19 pandemic picked up subsequently. According to data from the National Programme for Control of Blindness and Visual Impairment, the nationwide collection of donated eyes for corneal transplants fell from 65,417 in 2019-20 to 17,402 in 2020-21 and 33,733 in 2021-22.
There is still a backlog for corneal transplants, said Dr Agarwala, adding that counsellors like Ved become “effective counsellors”.
Relatives of a person who has just died, in a grieving moment, respond when Ved tells them of her first-hand experience. “She tells them she went through a similar thing, she gained from a loss like theirs,” Dr Agarwala said. “She is able to bring home the point effectively.”
According to Ved, people tend to take for granted their being able. “Through the eyes of a deceased person more than eight people can be benefited. It is a simple act of gratitude to pledge our eyes after death,” she said.