As former prime minister Gordon Brown announced his plans to quit politics in an emotional speech on Monday night, one of the first people he thanked was an Indian doctor who saved his right eye after the left had gone blind during a rugby accident when he was 16.
Brown had gone down on a loose ball and been kicked in the head close to his eyes, which led to his losing sight in the left eye. The right eye also showed signs of dimishing sight by the time he was 18, when he was referred to a pioneering surgeon, Hector Chawla.
Based at Edinburgh University, Chawla had just returned from a fellowship as a retinal surgeon in Chicago. Chawla operated on Brown’s right eye, which restored his sight completely, enabling him to follow his career in politics.
Based in Edinburgh, Chawla, now 77, was among the audience as Brown made the announcement that he would not contest the May 2015 elections in his constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in Scotland.
Brown revealed that he faced retinal problems in the good eye while he was prime minister between 2007 and 2010: “When I was in Downing Street and he (Chawla) was retired and they discovered there were tears ... he came to help me again.” Chawla was born in Sialkot before India’s independence to a Scottish mother and an Indian father who was serving in the British Army in World War II. Described as a precise, fastidious man, Chawla set up Scotland’s first centre of retinal surgery.