This was my third trip to Sambalpur in as many years and probably the busiest yet. When Jayant first asked me to be part of The Vision Mission (TVM), I never imagined I’ll be as involved with them as I am now. I wrote about Project Netra after my last trip in December 2015: Finding Superman: Changing a Prolific Surgeon to a Social Entrepreneur. An excerpt from the earlier article to get us started:
I was introduced to The Vision Mission (TVM) by my colleague, Dr. Jayant Iyer when I was working in Singapore. He along with his friends (Avinash Jayaraman and Jason Lee) had established a non-profit organization to help under served areas in south and east Asian regions in providing eye care. They started their first project in Sambalpur trying to convert a modest hospital into a world class eye care center. They send a team of doctors from Singapore three times a year to help the partner hospital to improve services. This project is 2 years old now. When I returned to India, Jayant asked if I would consider volunteering for TVM. I readily agreed and have made two wonderful trips there thus far. The Vision Mission is bringing specialized eye care, education and training to Sambalpur. It’s partner organization in Sambalpur is Trilochan Netralaya (TN).
I only have more good things to report after this present trip.
Trilochan Netralaya has grown leaps and bounds in the last 2 years. It seems well on it’s way to self sustainability. It has been extremely gratifying and we at TVM are proud to see Trilochan Netralaya (TN)- our first partner hospital reach where it is now in such a short duration. We are also fortunate to have found a hero like Dr. Shivaprasad Sahoo who works tirelessly to help the poor people in Western Odhisha.
TN-TVM Ophthalmology Connect CME Update
We started this present trip at Bhubaneshwar with TN-TVM Ophthalmology Connect- CME update in Glaucoma, Oculoplastics & Pediatric Ophthalmology. This academic part of the trip was full of interesting talks by the TVM team (Dr. Jayant Iyer, Dr. SiehYean Kiew and me) and the invited speakers (Dr. Sasmita Das, Dr. Debarati Saha and Dr. Biswajit Dey). The CME was well attended and the enthusiastic audience interacted with the speakers especially during the Glaucoma session.
SBI Foundation- TN Cataract Blind-free Project
The TVM team then moved to Bhawanipatna. We at The Vision Mission were pleased that Trilochan Netralaya are collaborating with SBI Foundation to make the Kalahandi district of western Odhisha a cataract blind free district by 2021. SBI foundation is sponsoring 4500 cataract surgeries in the first year. We were invited to witness the inaugration of this project. The inaugration was a grand affair with high ranking officials from SBI making it to the function. Jayant was invited to give an impromtu speech at the event where the school children were so enamoured by his words that they asked for his autograph at the end of the program.
Dr. Shiva and his team have built a wonderful new facility in Bhawanipatna with an excellent operating theater and a good system for patient flow during surgery. Dr. Shiva operated on a few patients for the first time at the new facility before the inaugration.
Project Netra 2017
We then moved to Sambalpur to the mainstay of the trip- Project Netra 2017. This year, TVM is supporting TN for 2000 free cataract surgeries. We left Bhawanipatna after the inaugration and reached Sambalpur late at night.
Sambalpur Clinics Day 1
After a tiring trip from Bhawanipatna to Sambalpur our team consisting of Jayant, SiehYean and me started clinics early morning. We were pleasantly surprised at the volume of patients we got to see at the clinic and there was a good mix of easy and complex cases. It was nice to see that many of these complicated cases could be managed in the existing facility in TN rather than having to send them to a higher center.
There were many state of the art equipment at TN which could now diagnose and help treat local patients who earlier had to go all the way to Bhubaneshwar 5 hours away.
Jayant helped Shivaprasad manage a very complicated case of Glaucoma of a young lady with only one seeing eye was to be salvaged. We hope she gets better after the revision surgery.
When clinics and OT ended late evening we decided to check out the flavor of the Sambalpur city. SiehYean enjoyed the share auto rides, taking plenty of pictures of dogs and cows. Jayant was in selfie mode throughout the trip in any case.
Sambalpur Clinics Day 2
Day 2 started in the right ernest and was an equally busy and satisfying day. Among the highlights of the clinic was me doing an emergency orbital (eye-socket) decompression in the clinic. The patient had a road traffic accident which broke the bones of the orbit. When the patient sneezed the air from his sinuses entered the orbit causing increased pressure in the orbit. After the CT confirmed it, I stuck a needle with a canula to evacuate the trapped air. This helped reduce the eye pressure significantly.
We finished clinics at around 5pm and then moved on to the Ashram campus of Trilochan Netralaya to see Shiva operate on patients.
A lot had changed since my last trip 2 years ago. Now there was a new OT facility at the ashram with some of the latest equipments for cataract surgery and Vitreoretinal surgery. A Vitreo-retinal surgeon from Bhubaneshwar comes 4 times a month to TN to see and operate on patients thus helping the local populace access to modern retina surgery in Sambalpur itself. TN was also offering Avastin (anti-VEGF) injections to patients with Retinal conditions needing it at affordable prices.
We had a sumptuous dinner at the Ashram itself after OT before retiring tired to our rooms.
Sambalpur Clinics Day 3
On day 3 we managed to find some time before our morning clinic session to discuss the future direction of the TN-TVM partnership and Project Netra, with Shiva. While TN had now progressed to become an ophthalmic institute providing sub-specialty care in Glaucoma and Vitreoretina, we identified some further areas where optimization was required such as streamlining work-up protocols, getting more detailed clinical documentation, etc. In addition, given the huge annual clinical and surgical load Shiva’s team manages, we felt TVM could help set up a research platform to better assess and manage the eye care needs of the local populace. We also reaffirmed our continued commitment to:
- Sponsor cataract surgeries for the needy through TN.
- The exchange of knowledge and skills between local and international ophthalmic surgeons through yearly CME sessions in Bhubaneswar.”
This turned out to be a very fruitful discussion.
We then again went in to “clinician mode” to then tackle the patients in the clinic. Later in the afternoon we assisted Shiva in the OT.
We ended the day at 9pm after an interesting episode of an Ophthalmologist operating on a Neurosurgeon (a story for another day). We took a final photo before leaving the clinic and then celebrating our eventful trip with a sumptous dinner for all the staff at a restaurant nearby.
R & R in Bhubaneshwar and meeting with Odhisha government representatives
We left by the early morning train from Sambalpur to Bhubaneshwar. We had a meeting with Odhisha government health representatives at Bhubaneshwar. The state government has approved ₹600 crores for eye care in Odhisha to be invested in the next 5 years. We discussed about new ideas and future projects to provide specialized eye care to the remotest and poorest regions of Odhisha. We hope we can collaborate with the government officials and be a part of the change for good in Odhisha.
After the meeting, on the recommendation of a friend, we decided to visit the Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves. We enjoyed the hilarious description of the caves and it’s history from the guide we hired at the site.
After this interesting history lesson, we then headed out for an early dinner. We finally reached the airport to say our goodbyes before heading home. We were happy with the wonderful trip but sad that the trip was over.
This has been good start in Odhisha and hopefully everyone else play their part in improving healthcare access to the most needy in our society. I’m thankful to Jayant Iyer, Avinash Jayaraman and Jason Lee– the founding directors of TVM, Singapore for laying the groundwork and letting me be part of this incredible endeavor. We also need to thank our generous donors without which none of this would be possible. May we all succeed in making a small little difference to our world.