For a person who has had his vision since birth and then suddenly poof! lost it, is a harsh reality. People rarely ever realize the value of something until it is gone.
Ramkumar M lost his vision to glaucoma 28 years ago. But he feels lucky that he was not born blind and that he had the privilege to see his family and got to see many places. “I lost my vision in 1992. I did not know what to do or how to live a life without my eyes. I even tried to commit suicide more than three times,” recalls Ramkumar, a resident of Ernakulam, Kerala.
For Ramkumar, adapting to this new reality was the most difficult. But with friends and family for support, he managed to adapt. He’s especially grateful to Moly Koshy, a social worker.
“It was Moly aunty who taught me to live my life again. She took me to different places, introduced me to others and bought me food. While eating, she would ask me if I ever thought about people who could not even taste food?” he says.
Moly would take him to visit the cancer patient’s home. “She would tell me how lucky I am to have hands, legs and other parts of my body. She then motivated me to work towards a greater purpose – eye donation campaigns. I will always be grateful to her for my second life,” says Ramkumar, who leads his life happily with his wife Satheedevi and two daughters, Aparna and Aiswarya.
Ramkumar spent his life working for BPCL but now, is dedicated to spreading awareness about blindness and the importance of donations. After taking voluntary retirement, at 52, his mission now is to create 25 lakh eye-donors in Kerala within a decade. “If we can find 25 lakh donors, we can donate eyes to 50 lakh people and turn Kerala corneal blindness-free,” he says.
Ramkumar took to spreading awareness in the state. He realized that people are hesitant to donate their eyes, and after passing away, there is resistance from the families.
“In 2018, only 30,000 persons donated their eyes in the country. Though many people sign consent letters, the donation fails to materialise because of resistance from relatives and the consent letters get dumped in the corners of hospitals. In Tripunithura alone, around 1.5 lakh consent letters are lying waste,” he says.
Ramkumar himself has gone through the bitter experience of relatives ousting him from the houses of the deceased. “Only if the family is aware can we get the eyes as per the consent of the deceased. Over the past two-and-a-half years, I have made 7,000 families aware of the process and thereby managed to get around 3.5 lakh donors,” he said.
“A big change in citizens’ mindset when it comes to eye donation is because of the campaign of the Central Government’s SAKSHAMA, which has a wing called CAMBA (Cornea Andhatav-Mukt Bharat Abhiyan).” says Ramkumar.
He recalls how once an old woman approached him with a desire to donate her eyes for him. To which he replied: “Convince your family members about the eye donation. I lost my vision due to glaucoma and donation cannot help me get back my vision.”
Ramkumar concludes by saying that only by understanding the importance of the people’s action and what difference it makes can there be lasting change.
As they say, if you are not an organ donor, when you die, you take away many lives with you.