Dr Sundaram Natarajan, a leading Mumbai-based ophthalmologist who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2013, alone conducted 40 retinal surgeries on Kashmir’s pellet victims in three days.
Dr Natarajan and his team of four doctors were brought to Kashmir amidst the ongoing turmoil on July 26 by the Pune-based non-government organisation Borderless World Foundation (BWF). Since its arrival in Srinagar, the team had conducted more than 69 surgeries at the SMHS hospital till Saturday afternoon.
All the surgeries were done free of cost, the BWF and doctors at SMHS said.
The lead doctor operated on 40 patients himself and led procedures on six others over the hectic three days.
Three members of the team, including Dr Natarajan, left Srinagar on Saturday, while the remaining two doctors are still working at the SMHS.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Dr Natarajan explained how complicated and multidimensional the pellet injuries were. He said, “The centre of the eye is the sensitive zone. Patients with a damaged central part might not get their normal vision back but they will get side vision.”
“But patients whose macula (central part of retina) and optic nerve are intact and lens and cornea are clear will get back their normal vision,” added the doctor, who is chairman-cum-managing director of the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai.
Dr Natarajan added that he and his team would return to the Valley to follow up on the patients, serious retinal surgery cases required a follow-up after six weeks.
Use of pellet guns by security forces in Kashmir has become a cause for concern for activists. In the ongoing unrest, more than 600 people have been injured by pellets, and 185 people suffered eye injuries with 20 sustaining damage in both eyes, according to the latest government data.
When a pellet cartridge bursts, hundreds of tiny metallic particles jet out and penetrate skin and eyes, rupturing them before getting lodged. Dr Natarajan described the resulting injuries as a “quite serious problem”.
Dr Tariq Qureshi, head of the department of ophthalmology, Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, said, “Dr Natarajan’s expertise in this field is unparalleled. And his visit and work has been very fruitful in these times of crisis.”
He added that when patients go to Chandigarh or Amritsar with pellet injuries, they are charged lakhs of rupees, which was why Dr Natarajan’s visit and the free surgeries have been so useful for the patients.
Haris Abrar Kashmiri, a senior program officer of the BWF in Kashmir, said after seeing the plight of pellet victims that the organisation had thought of getting the patients flown out of Kashmir for better treatment but encountered logistical problems.
“We spoke at length with senior doctors at SMHS and BWF’s officials. It was decided that we approach Dr Natarajan since he is an expert in this field. Two minutes into our conversation with the doctor, he had agreed,” Kashmiri said.