Nepali Times
The gift of sight


Cornea recipient Sabitri Lamichhane (32), from Chitwan, cries before proceeding for surgery of her left eye, severely infected for a week .

Bishnu Bhattarai, 41, is a teacher from Surkhet. He thought he knew what it meant to pass on the light of knowledge to his students. "I had been teaching for many years and felt happy about opening the eyes of my students," he says, "but then the unexpected happened."

After minor discomfort in his left eye and blurred vision, Bhattarai woke up one morning with excruciating pain. Within days, he was completely blind in one eye and his right eye was so sensitive to light he couldn't open it. For two months he stayed in a dark room." I thought that was the end of my life," Bhattarai recalls. "As a teacher, being blind was as good as
being dead."

Today, thanks to the eye donation program at the Tilganga Institute of Opthalmology, Bhattarai has regained his sight with a corneal transplant. The cornea that allows Bhattarai to see came from a seven-year-old girl who committed suicide. The girl's father, who had brought his daughter for cremation to Pashupati two weeks ago, consented to donate her eyes after Tilganga's Eye Bank team convinced him.

The Eye Bank is the only one of its kind in the country, and has been harvesting corneas for transplantation from the nearby cremation site since 1996. The team tries to convince grieving relatives that donating the corneas of the deceased can help the blind see again. It is not an easy job, and most refuse. But Tilganga's cornea excision centre at Pashupati has seen an increase in the number of donors. The Eye Bank team at Pashupati harvested 214 pairs of corneas in 2008, compared to just two in 1996

One in every ten Nepalis is visually impaired and corneal defects are the second biggest cause of blindness after cataracts. The transplantation of a new cornea is the only way to cure such blindness.

Sabitri Lamichhane (see pics) from Chitwan is among the many who have benefited from the eye donation program. A timely cornea transplant saved her from permanently losing sight in one eye to a severe infection that began a week before she had her operation. "It's a miracle, I never thought she'd see again," says Om Lamichhane, her husband.

But the taboo against organ transplantation is still very strong, meaning few people pledge donations. "Most of our corneas are the result of grief counselling of relatives in Aryaghat," says Shankha Narayan Twyana, manager of the Eye Bank." We have very few voluntary donors and most of them are the relatives of the people who have received such transplants."

Tilganga offers free transplantation services and the patients only need to pay for medicines and a small entry fee. "We thought that if there was no money involved, we could discourage the black market in organ transplants," explains Bhola KC of the Eye Bank team.

Most grieving relatives think the eyeball itself is excised and the deceased will be disfigured, but many consent once they realise what they are doing will transform the lives of two people. A pair of donated corneas is always given to one eye in two people.

When Manoj KC prepared to cremate his seven-year-old daughter at Pashupati, the last thing he wanted was to be approached by someone asking him to donate his child's eyes "I was in grief. My child was gone. I didn't want to give anything to anyone. I just told them to leave," KC says.

The Eye Bank team had already left when KC sent someone to call the team back. KC still can't explain why he changed his mind. "I thought if her eyes could help two people to come out of the darkness, at least they would bless her soul," he says.

And the child is blessed indeed. "I pray for the girl every day," says Laxmi Bhattarai, wife of Bishnu Bhattarai. She cannot stop thanking the family who agreed to the donation: "My husband got his life back. Is there anything more one can do for strangers?"

Laxmi has herself pledged her eyes for donation after her death.

The names of the donors and recipients have been changed to protect their identities.

She waits to have her eye anaesthesised prior to surgery on her left eye .

A cornea en route from donor to recipient at the Tilganga Institute of Opthalmology .

Sabitri immediately after the operation on her left eye, into which a cornea has been transplanted .

Resting in the recovery room at the Tilganga Institute of Opthalmology .

A day later, she returns for a check-up . Her eye is examined and she is able to see shapes and movement.

Light from darkness
An eye for an eye, NARESH NEWAR
"How can I ever forget?"
Women, determined, JEERAWAT NA THALANG
As good as new

1. Gman
One amazing story of humanity and caring among all the chaos in Kathmandu. May we all live in peace.

2. S.V.Agashe

Hats off to the 7 years old deceased girls father who donated her corneas to the Tilganga's Eye Bank. This teams sustained efforts to harvest only 2 pairs of corneas in 1996 to 214 in 2008 are praiseworthy one. 

Similar pathetic situation exists in India and I am striving hard to motivate people for this noble cause.

I can send by e mail the detailed brochures in English & Hindi. Those interested can contact me on -

For information visit my blog -

              S.V.Agashe, Thane,India  

3. Nepali
I wish the 7 year old was alive.

4. Santosh
Kudos to Tilganga for one of their greatest achievements in eyecare in Nepal (they can count more than a few to their name - this coming from me whose application to work there over 10 years ago had been unsuccessful).

 Rubeena has written a greatly encompassing article, but it seems that she has overstated  the fact about visual impairment to sensationalise her story. I find it hard to believe that 10% of Nepalese, i.e. approximately 2.3 million are visually impaired. Being a researcher with an interest in the area of eye health, I would be grateful if Rubeena could email me her source for this information be it a research publication or personal communication.

I also believe it should have been made clearer in the article that not all visually impaired people with corneal scarring can benefit from corneal transplants - the way the benefits of corneal transplantation are explained in the article, I am concerned that some families of blind people may end up harbouring false hopes. But I agree we need more donors to come forward.


(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)