Gift of sight


Just imagine how it feels to be able to see after living in darkness. One can just evaluate what restoration of eyesight can do to our whole body and realise how quickly

this field of medicine (ophthalmology) makes a huge difference in so many peoples’ life.”

This is how Dr Sanduk Ruit explains his choice of specialisation in the field of medicine.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the case of Nepal, it is Dr Ruit’s tireless effort towards preventing avoidable blindness that has brought to light the magnanimity of ophthalmology.

It is not a hidden fact that being a doctor has always been considered the most desired profession in our society, but this was not the only reason for Dr Ruit. When he was just 16, his sister, who was just 14 years old, died of tuberculosis. This tragic incident made him desperate as he felt that if only he could have done something to save her.

“I felt a pinch in my heart and decided to study as hard as I can to become a doctor,” shared Dr Ruit.

And his father gave him the much-needed support.

Hailing from a remote village in Nepal, achieving his goal wasn’t easy. He is very much inspired by his father who without having any formal education was determined to send him to school. His seniors like Dr NC Rai, Dr Ram Prasad Pokharel and Dr Madan Upadhyay, whom he always looked up to, also inspired him in this area of work. “They were the ones who made the difference,” shares this sight-giving doctor.

Another person who had a huge impact in his life was Dr Fred Hollows, whom he considers his mentor and friend. They both shared the same medical philosophies and vision in life.

He first met Dr Hollows in the mid-80s when he was working as Medical Officer with the Nepalese Prevention of Blindness Program while Dr Hollows was visiting the programme as a consultant with the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 1988, he visited Australia and learned the modern techniques of cataract surgery from Dr Hollows. It was also during this 14 months’ stay that he got involved in the formation of Nepal Eye Programme Australia (NEPA).

After coming back to Nepal Dr Ruit introduced the cataract surgery with intraocular lens implants and also his sutureless form of surgery, which has made high volume, and low budget operations safe plus reduced the patient’s recovery time.

Introducing new and better techniques was not enough for this man who had a clear view about what role he wants to play in the health sector of Nepal. Along with the determination to eliminate avoidable blindness, he also wanted to encourage the involvement of locals.

“I always believed that when it comes to health care, and especially my field, that everyone should get equal treatment. There is no such thing like second class treatment. It has to be the best quality for people from every strata or geography and should involve the community,” he states.

Dr Ruit followed this philanthropic passion of his and began conducting mobile eye camps in several remote villages in Nepal. Supported by NEPA, these camps carried out on-the-spot surgeries for sight restoration. These were so successful that he even conducted such camps in other countries like China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and North Korea.

In addition to his direct involvement, he has also given much of his time and effort to better the eye-care services by teaching his remarkable techniques to paramedics and surgeons from different parts of the world. Tilganga Eye Centre has been the core for this expansion.

Through all these years, Dr Ruit has been able to bring a whole new meaning to so many people’s life by giving them the power of sight. And as they say ‘no good deed goes unnoticed’, his contribution to society has been honoured time and again.

In 2006, Dr Ruit was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding. Considered Asia’s Nobel, this was a much-deserved recognition of his hard work.

When asked about his first reaction after knowing that he had been selected for this award he said, “I simply didn’t have my feet on the ground. I went and hugged my daughters.”

He felt that all the effort he had put into doing good for the people had been appreciated. He also pointed out a completely different aspect of the award. “The timing of the award was also very important. At a time when all people were hearing in and about Nepal were just about bloodshed and strikes, this good news that a Nepali’s work has been appreciated brought some positive vibes.”

As the initial euphoria started ceding, he realised the “magnitude of the prestigious award” which added more responsibility and encouraged him to do more for and give more to society. “The awards have definitely made me work harder.”

More accolades followed in the next year as he was named the Asian of the Year by Reader’s Digest and

the Governor-General of Australia awarded him an honorary appointment as Officer in the Order of Australia (AO). In the same year, Dr Ruit also received the Prince Mahidol Award for contribution to medicine and public health.

A man subjected to such prominent honours and recognitions is often likely to get overwhelmed and Dr Ruit is no exception, but his focus on his work remains undeterred.

So what keeps him grounded?

With a content smile he says, “The biggest asset of mine — my patients, and the bonds I have with them keeps me grounded. The cases I have to deal with keep providing new challenges to keep doing more for the rest of my life.”

The fact that he is in a country like Nepal where so much is left to be done and also his colleagues bring him back to the reality of life. For him the possibility of “duplicating and multiplying the effects of the techniques” by training more professionals is a satisfying triumph. “It has helped uplift the credibility of our country as we are giving something good to the rest of the world which they hardly expect. I feel proud that I, as a Nepali, am giving expertise to other people of the world.”

A person who likes to be at places where he is most useful, Dr Ruit opines that the desire to do something has to come from within and one has to set one’s priority to be able to manage time. “The people whom I work with — my team and the people on the hospital board — help me a lot in managing time for my camps and trainings.”

Even after achieving so much in life there is no stopping for this gentleman. “With age I know that my time is getting shorter, so I need to hurry and utilise my service in much better way to gain maximum impact.”

He knows very well that every human being has his/her own limitations and hopes he will recognise his. “We should start the tradition of retirement”.

So when will he follow the tradition? “When my hands start shaking,” he says with a hearty laugh.