CHENNAI: After a tiring day at a medical conference in Indore in February this year, Dr Sujatha Mohan just wanted to kick off her shoes and rest for a while. Little did she know that her life-changing moment was a phone call away. “I heard the phone ring. I was too tired to pick it up, but I did. I was told that the call was from Maneka Gandhi’s office and that I was selected for an award. They asked for my contact details and address, and I gave them. I forgot about that till I came back to Chennai,” says the executive medical director of Rajan Eye Care, who is one among this year’s 40 Nari Shakti Puraskar awardees.
When she shared the news with her husband, Dr Mohan Rajan, he was elated. “It was he who had filed my nomination for the charitable work we had done.” What ensued was a funny moment. “He called it Nari Shakti and ‘Nari’ in Tamil means fox. It was only later that a colleague explained it was ‘Na-ari’ Shakti, meaning women power,” laughs Dr Sujatha.
The big moment was in New Delhi, when she met her co-awardees. “Each of them has done such wonderful work, and Maneka Gandhi told us that we were selected from among 1,000 nominees. I was nervous, but when I approached the President to get the award, he smiled and congratulated me. That calmed me down,” she says.
On March 11 when she came to work, the hospital was a sight to behold. The patients, doctors and staff members erupted in cheer.
Dr Sujatha credits the team from Rajan Eye Care for her award. She has been dedicated towards eradicating preventable blindness in south India. Her main motive is to provide basic eye services to the rural and poor population in Chennai and its adjoining districts. Under the Chennai Vision Charitable Trust (CVCT), the philanthropic arm of Rajan Eye Care Hospital, the team has a Netra Vahana project for screening for cataract in villages, giving glasses for those in need, screening for glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, and conducting routine school screening camps.
“We are now doing screening for keratokonus, which is common, especially in kids, due to the use of gadgets,” she says. Along with Rotary Club, they have been conducting corneal transplants.
“The new project we have started is the screening of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), for which we have tied up with the ICH. A team of doctors does screening and laser on-site for babies,” she says.
For the poor
“It has always been my dream to open a full-fledged free out-patient treatment hospital for the underprivileged. Usually, we bring in people from villages for treatment, but at this hospital, those from economically weaker sections can get regular check-up done free of cost,” she says. This award has now given wings to her dreams — free eye care for poor patients, in association with Chennai Vision Charitable Trust, Rotary Rajan Eye Bank, and Rotary Club of Madras T Nagar. This will be launched on March 21. “We are also joining hands with the Corporation to open a hospital opposite Valluvar Kottam,” she says.
At Rajan Eye Care, there are more female employees than male employees. This is Dr Sujatha’s way of ensuring that women with potential have jobs. “I have six optometrists who work on a half-day basis because they have responsibilities at home. Whenever women come to me and say they want to quit citing personal reasons, I ask them to think again and not let their capabilities go to waste,” she says, adding that even women who work part-time enjoy all benefits.
A mother of two daughters, Dr Sujatha is happy that they have chosen the same field as their parents. “This goes to show that we have done something right. They are extremely hard working. I am not someone who instructs or advises people to do something, I lead by action,” she says.
Make it a practice
Rajan Eye Care conducts regular camps to create awareness on eye donation. “On average, we get three or four pairs of eyes a week. This is not enough. We do get a lot of donations, but those are from people aged 85 and above. We need young eyes that are below the age of 60, for transplant. Unfortunately, this is possible only when someone passes away young or dies in a road accident. In case of accidents, though the police want to help us get the eyes donated, it gets delayed because of the several procedures,” she shares.
Dr Sujatha says that the concept of organ donation should be taught at a younger age.
“Whenever celebrities come to our hospital, we conduct a small programme and ask them to pledge for organ donation. Seeing them, many others pledge and then that’s about it. Sadly, to keep people reminded about the need for organ donation, we have to keep conducting camps. Why not teach this in school?” she asks.