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For The Eyes Without Light: Dr. Sanduk Ruit

May 28, 2014 , by Kritika Lamsal, 3 Comments
For The Eyes Without Light: Dr. Sanduk Ruit » My Dreams Mag
Founder of Tilganga Institue of Opthamology, Dr Ruit, often called the "God of Sight", has removed 100,000 cataracts over his 30-year career. His sole mission has been, and continues to be, ‘to bring eyesight back to anyone who needs it, regardless of his or her ability to pay’.

 
Just imagine how it feels like to see things for the first time. To see flowers blooming; to finally see how beautiful your mother is; to know what ‘colors’ look like. How would it be to observe yourself in the mirror for the first time? Almost magical, don’t you think? Ophthalmologists are the magicians who help restore vision to the eyes that had stopped to see. Dr Sanduk Ruit, through his relentless years of services in Nepal, has contributed immensely to change the world of ophthalmology.

 

Truth be told, not only is Sanduk Ruit an ophthalmologist, he is one of the best. Ruit, the ophthalmologist and Ruit, the hero are strongly linked. Authentic heroism is surprisingly sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to outdo others at all cost, but the urge to serve others, at all cost. This is exactly what Dr Ruit has been doing for decades now. With pure intentions, he sets out scaling high peaks to make his services available to people who need it most.

 

Dr. Ruit, despite your humble beginnings, you are one of the pioneers in the field of ophthalmology in Nepal, and a renowned and respected surgeon. How did it happen?
Being born in an isolated village of eastern Nepal, Olangchungola, which survived on agriculture and petty trading, education was merely a priority. However, my family was relatively better with technically literate parents who were determined to provide us an education they couldn’t pursue. As my father was a trader, he was frequently away from home, exploring foreign lands. During this course, he decided to send me off to St. Robert’s School in Darjeeling. My inclination towards the field of Science during school days cemented my way towards medical studies as a scholarship student in one of the most prestigious institutes of India, King George Medical College in Uttar Pradesh. Things have fallen into place now. With the knowledge I gathered over years, I dedicated myself to build an institution which stands as a successful model for scientifically advanced, socially responsive medical care; Tilnganga Eye Centre.

Dr. Sanduk Ruit

Amongst all the other options, what motivated you to pursue medicine?

When I was a young boy, I lost my sister who suffered from Tuberculosis. Despite it being a treatable disease, the primary line of drugs weren’t effective which worsened her condition. She passed away right in front of my eyes. I was left with grief, but a sense of urgency accompanied it. The sense of urgency to start contributing! I didn’t want others to suffer the same fate as my sister. In a split moment, I had an intuition to delve into the field of medicine. I knew that I had to select a life that is not only favorable to me but others as well.

 

Graduates of medicine are considered successful when they use their skills within the limited boundaries of a well-off hospital. A masterful surgeon like you could have easily opted for a lavish lifestyle in the foreign lands. Instead, you chose to stay. You, on the other hand, not only trek to remote parts all over Nepal but also provide services to ones in need overlooking their inability to pay you well. In this money-minded world, why did you want to stand out of the pack?

My idea of success is not calculated in money one earns but in the lives that one has influenced. Though the idea of working in well-off hospitals with world class services sounds tempting, a surgeon could never discover his true potential there. The limitation in the variations as well as the numbers of patients he treats will never allow him to grow.

 

If I were practicing someplace else right now, I would not be half the person that I am now. Here, I am not circumscribed. My team and I have endless opportunities to restore sights of people who need it most. Our team treks 3-4 times a year to parts of Himalayas and sets up eye camps to treat patients with eye diseases. Through my expertise, I can make differences in lives of millions of ‘good’ people who could not have been able to pay for the treatment elsewhere. I believe that the best way to treat patients is by maintaining a close relationship with them. In a country like ours, technology can’t treat people single-handedly. The best way to give to people is by getting closer to them and their environment. No money in the world can overshadow the satisfaction that comes from this experience.

 

What is the fuel to your relentless service?

Have you ever been to the Pashupati Crematorium? If you sit on one of the benches a few feet away, you can see the burning flesh of a dead man burning amidst the flames. A person who once had dreams to fulfill is now nothing but ashes. As sad as this might sound, you realize that life is short and unpredictable. Death is a great teacher. It reminds you, almost mockingly, that everyone is stamped with an expiration date. I am a mortal being after all. I have to do what I do best to give people a better shot at life. I have to do it before my time comes.

Dr. Sanduk Ruit

Please elaborate on the situation of Nepal in terms of medical facilities for eye problems like cataract. What made you so keen to delve into alternative methods of cataract treatment?

In the Western Hemisphere, cataracts are primarily an issue for the elderly; but in Nepal and other developing countries, cataracts affect the total population, including young adults and even children, due to malnutrition, inadequate health and education services, poor water quality and a lack of sanitation. My upbringing in the Himalayas taught me that life is not easy there. Blindness is often considered a death sentence. Basic survival, in a place with such geographical ruggedness, is unattainable without good feet and sharp eyes.

 

When I came back from Australia as a specialist, I was young, active and explorative. I discovered that the major cause of blindness is cataract but its treatment was rather conventional and didn’t yield effective results. People who had cataract surgery were given crude, thick glasses that allowed only a poor quality of vision with terrible distortions in peripheral vision that made life on uneven mountain trails difficult, a fact that seriously mattered to rural people in Nepal’s rugged landscape. It was an intricate task to discover a simple yet cost effective, world class treatment that would be feasible here. Let alone making it available in one of the most remote parts of the globe. The new technique of using intra-ocular lenses was deemed unrealistic.

 

Manufacturing such lenses seemed bizarre. Doubts would knock my doors at times. Before it could get the best of us, our camps introduced the use of intra-ocular lenses in cataract surgery in Nepal. Now, this blend of modern technology in our surgical method is not only accepted in Nepal but is appreciated worldwide. The independence Nepal now enjoys in the field of ophthalmology has definitely shone a positive light on Nepal across the globe.

 

As a surgeon as well as the founder of Tilganga Eye Centre (TEC), you have waived fees for the neediest. Has this policy of prioritizing services over profit ever hampered your professional life?

Realistically, a person only needs enough money, not all the money in the world. Money is a mere sheet of paper that can get the things you require. For a sustained life, you only need certain commodities and for that you need certain money. It’s amusing how people make their lives mission to get thing that they don’t even need.

Dr. Sanduk Ruit

Moving away from my philosophy, I can’t deny the fact that money is essential. But if an institution isn’t armed with responsibility towards less privileged people, it would never be a true service provider. To merge the varied aspect of money and responsibility in a single system, we have introduced cross subsidization where higher price is charged to privileged patients in order to subsidize lower prices for those who can’t afford the treatment. With this take on equity, we can effectively prioritize service over profit.

 

You are commended for performing dozens of flawless cataract operations at eye camps over 12-hours in a day. Isn’t it tiring at times, to be under constant stress? Do you have a coping mechanism?

It’s not easy. It’s exacting. It’s stressful. There’s no margin for error but you get to the end of the week and you’ll know that you’re in the business of miracles. You’re not going to reach a point of the week or point in middle age where you look in the mirror and go, “Have I done anything with my life?”

 

My team is my shield. With immense pride, I consider my team of TEC and other networks to be one of the best surgical teams around the globe. After a long day, I do not have to worry about the micro-management. Every individual is aware of their roles, which help us work as a corporate mechanism. Without this team, it would be awfully hard to survive in this constantly rushed profession. A better system allows the surgeons to conduct effective treatment.

 

How does it feel to operate under the open sky? Share with us an experience that you won’t easily forget.

Open sky with blowing breeze and natural light is undoubtedly refreshing. But, if open sky is a metaphor for lack of modern technology, I must say that performing sensitive operations especially in delicate organs like the eyes can be a hassle without proper equipments, environment and experience. Even when we are in remote places, we put best efforts to provide modern standard treatment.

 

An incident of 20 years ago is still fresh in my head. I had an encounter with a young woman of 25 with blindness of both her eyes in Eastern Nepal. She was captivatingly beautiful. People this young aren’t generally cataract victims. She was staring into nothingness. Her eyes showed hopelessness. Alongside her insensitive husband who was carrying her child, she placed her foot wherever she could. With blisters and cuts all over her feet, I could tell that she had walked 7-8 days to reach the camp. We operated on her the very next day. After recovery, with every layer of the bandages taken off, her nervousness heightened. When her eyes were finally unveiled, she looked around for a while. In an electric moment, she spotted her child, took him in her lap and stared at him. Slowly, she started caressing him with extreme care and later broke down into tears as she held him across her chest. Within a single minute, her life changed. Those eyes that stared into nothingness were shining with joy.

Dr. Sanduk Ruit
 

What do you like and dislike about the way things work in Nepal?

In general, I like the people here. Kind, humble and down to Earth! Working for, with and amongst them is a joy. On the contrary, I absolutely despise the trend of politicization in every field, even medicine. This political culture is degrading the situation of hospitals and its functioning. The networking of political parties with their strong sister organizations are creating hurdles to smooth running of our institutions. I strongly believe that we need a strong statesman with a patriotic team to bring in a vision to sustain our nation in this 21st century modern economy. Rather than hollow political ideologies, we are in need of proper functioning of the state.

 

After having your work recognized through awards like Ramon Magsaysay and Prince Mahidol, you received one of the greatest honors- the Ujjwol Kirtimaya Rastra Deep Award back in 2010. How does it feel?

It is always great to receive appreciation for the work you do. It fortifies one’s passion and drive towards their goals. Apart from these accolades, I feel warm inside when I get recognized through my patients. When they speak well of me, I feel like I have accomplished much more than I set out for.

 

For a boy who was born and raised in the remote village of Olangchungola, Dr Ruit has gone a long distance. Unlike many of us, he never nitpicks about his humble beginnings in our developing nation. Rather, he is happy to be born within the mystique of Nepal. Not only has he made name for himself in Nepal but is an internationally appreciated surgeon. However, he still stays close to home. The calling of the mountains brought him back from foreign lands after he sharpened his skills. A surgeon of his caliber could have opted for a well-off life in a rich land. But he knew that could never give him the satisfaction he craved for. He wanted to give back to his nation. By giving vision to his countrymen, he hopes to bring development to his nation.

 

By adopting simple, cost effective and viable techniques to conduct cataract surgeries, Dr Ruit has addressed the problem of blindness like never before. Tilganga has its own Intra-ocular Lens Laboratory which produces cheap yet high quality lens for the patients with cataract. Also, his team now provides not only services but trainings in the camps they set up, allowing their trainees to train many others.

 

With improved techniques, equipments and manpower, Nepal, to a certain extent, is now self sufficient when it come to medical facilities concerning the eyes. We have an identity distinct from others, an identity we can be proud of, an identity we have to enhance and nurture, because this can be our first ticket to real freedom. Dr Ruit’s quest to become an ophthalmologist afforded him the opportunity to show Nepal in a better light.
 


Sanduk Ruit is the one who kindles a great light, who sets up blazing torches in the dark alleys of life for us to see by. Some say that a person’s actions show what his heart truly holds. If that is true, all we see is magnificent radiance and untainted nationalism within him. Until his hands shiver and refuse to operate, we can always find Dr Ruit trying to give sight to yet another soul.

 

An estimated 1,50,000 people in Nepal are blind, solely due to cataracts. But, at the same time, Nepal has one of the highest rates of curable blindness anywhere in the world. One doctor in particular has been contributing relentlessly to make this happen. Dr Sanduk Ruit pioneered a surgical technique, allowing cataracts to be removed safely without stitches through two small incisions. Once condemned by the international medical community as reckless, it is not only practiced but is taught to surgeons all over the globe.
 

Founder of Tilganga Institue of Opthamology, Dr Ruit, often called the “God of Sight”, has removed 100,000 cataracts over his 30-year career. His sole mission has been, and continues to be, ‘to bring eyesight back to anyone who needs it, regardless of his or her ability to pay’. Instead of leading a lavish life, he takes his knowledge to the poorest of the poor. Hopes are skyrocketing as his technique is giving cost effective yet top-notch treatment to ones who never imagined seeing light again. His remarkable progress in treating cataracts is setting the example for many other developing countries, where 90 per cent of the world’s blind reside.
 

Dr. Ruit, with his skill and hardwork, has proved that high quality care can be successfully delivered in places considered subpar by western standards. As a tribute to his remarkable achievements, Dr. Ruit has received some of the highest awards in the field of medicine possible which includes Ramon Magsaysay Award, Prince Mahidol and the prestigious Ujjwol Kirtimaya Rastra Deep Award. He still leads a modest life, without boasting about anything. He is joyous that his technique has created a ripple effect as one surgeon passes it down to the other and this in turn has touched more lives than expected. 

 


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Text by: Kritika Lamsal
Images: Bikkil Sthapit

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3 comments on “For The Eyes Without Light: Dr. Sanduk Ruit

  1. zany says:

    Can I get Dr.Sanduk Ruit’s email address?

  2. Sir,
    sight of my father has been completely destroyed. I want to treat them from your kind treatment and want appointment.Age of Father is 70 years.

    kindly advise

    My e-mail address is
    amir.sattar@fatima-group.com

  3. Tamilarasi says:

    Can I have your mail id please?

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