Let eyes live long, don’t bury them

Ilango stepped out of the comforts of his revenue-earning mill, to share the experience and the importance of organ donation.
Eye Donation Awareness Team has restored vision of more than 1,000 individuals
Eye Donation Awareness Team has restored vision of more than 1,000 individuals (Photo | V Karthikalagu)

TENKASI: RP Ilango closed his eyes once to figure out what it means to be a blind; it was 2010 and he was at a usual eye-donation awareness programme organised by a private hospital. The volunteers asked the audience to shut their eyes and list out the activities they could pull off at that moment. Ilango, a rice mill owner in Keezhapavoor of Tenkasi, opened his eyes to empathise with those who lost the power of vision.

He stepped out of the comforts of his revenue-earning mill, to share the experience and the importance of organ donation. It wasn’t easy. If you asked someone to donate their deceased kin’s eyes, they would stare at you, he says. “There will be several excuses — it is not allowed in our religion, eyes allow you to see your ancestors in the afterlife, and many more. Some others threatened me with legal action for organ trafficking.” But he did not step back.

He brought in a small bunch of dedicated people under the Eye Donation Awareness Team. Ilango’s work in the past 14 years speaks volumes of his and the team’s dedication. They collected about 360 pairs of eyeballs and restored vision of more than 1,000 visually-impaired individuals.

“When someone regains their vision, it feels like a rebirth for them. What else could satisfy me more than helping a person achieve that?” asks Ilango.

His Awareness Team has more than 50 members in different parts of Tenkasi. “When someone in their locality dies, the members alert me. Then, we visit the house and approach the family of the deceased person for the donation. If they agree, we contact Aravind Eye Hospital, Tirunelveli, or Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital for harvesting the eyeball. The doctors and nurses arrive immediately as the donation should be done within six to nine hours post death. Meanwhile, our team pastes posters (Kanneer Anjali), appreciating the deceased and his family for the donation, in the locality before the funeral,” says Ilango.

He has convinced his friends and family, over 15 members, to register their entire bodies for donation at the TvMCH after their deaths for research purposes. He has been honoured with 86 awards by collectors, hospitals, Amar Seva Sangam, and Lions and Rotary clubs.

“Even if a deceased person has not registered for eye donation, it can be made possible if their relatives inform a nearby hospital immediately. There are many misconceptions when it comes to donations. Except for those who suffered from AIDS, jaundice, and dog bites, anyone of any age can donate,” says Ilango.

However, he observes that the stigma surrounding eye donation has significantly reduced. Villagers are inspired by the idea that a deceased person can be immortalised if at least a part of their loved one continues living. Most people understand that the body is just going to decompose but many other lives can be changed with the kind act of organ donation. The number of people who voluntarily contact Ilango to donate their kin’s eyes has increased in recent years.

“Recently, a man called me from Kondalur, a remote village, and willingly donated the eyes of his deceased mother. After seeing our ‘Kanneer Anjali’ posters, a man from Valliyoor in Tirunelveli donated his family member’s eyes. Parents of a seven-year-old boy donated his eyes after he passed away in an accident.” The police and ambulance drivers are also helping the team in facilitating donations.

Ilango adds, “A Helen Keller quote reads ‘Death is no more than passing from one room into another’ but it’s different for me; in that other room, I shall be able to see. No matter how

respectable a person is, he/she will be forgotten easily after death. If we open our eyes to see beyond the sentimental value of our physical form and look at the bigger picture, we can gift them the power of sight, literally opening their eyes to a new beginning.”

(Edited by Meghna Murali)

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