Compassionate doctor, visionary surgeon: Medical fraternity mourns Sankara Netralaya’s Dr SS Badrinath
Dr SS Badrinath co-founded Sankara Netralaya, which has trained close to 1,500 ophthalmologists, and offers free treatment and care to 1,200 patients daily.
Legendary eye surgeon Dr Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath is revered by thousands of medical professionals and masses alike for his pioneering work in bringing free medical treatment to the poor.
A visionary in the field of charitable healthcare, he passed away at his home in Chennai on the morning of November 21. He was 83.
Dr SS Badrinath was the Co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Sankara Netralaya—a non-profit eyecare hospital chain that offers quality eyecare at affordable cost and is on a mission to eliminate avoidable blindness.
The institute performs close to 100 free-of-charge surgeries daily and benefits at least 1,200 patients every day. Since its establishment in 1978, the institute has trained more than 1,500 ophthalmologists, and at least 300 of them have been directly mentored by Dr Badrinath, according to the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology (IJO).
“He believed that creating good clinicians would improve ophthalmology in India. And so, he taught the nuances of vitreoretinal surgery to his students, who themselves are recognised as great teachers today. He had the power to convert an ordinary student to an extraordinary clinician,” doctors Rajiv Raman, Mohan Rajan, Sundaram Natarajan, and Jyotirmay Biswas—renowned ophthalmologists in their own disciplines—wrote in an article in IJO.
Born in Chennai in 1940, Dr Badrinath was exposed to a family member’s struggles with visual impairment at a young age. In several interviews, he expressed how this experience was etched in his young mind and became instrumental in his pursuit of ophthalmology.
After graduating from the Madras Medical College in 1964, Dr Badrinath pursued his graduate studies in ophthalmology in the USA at Grasslands Hospital, New York University Postgraduate Medical School, and Brooklyn Eye and Ear Infirmary until 1968. He went on to become a fellow in the vitreoretinal services of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, where he trained under Dr Charles L Schepens, who is celebrated as the father of modern retinal surgery.
Dr Badrinath completed his Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Canada in 1969 and the American Board Examination in Ophthalmology in 1970.
Upon his return to India, he worked as a consultant ophthalmologist at various hospitals in Chennai where he started training students and doctors.
“I was born in Madurai and joined the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Government Ophthalmic Hospital as a third-generation eye doctor in 1984. One of the first things I noticed was the skill and sophistication Dr Badrinath brought to Indian ophthalmology in those years,” Dr S Natarajan, who is currently the Chairman and Managing Director of the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai, tells SocialStory.
“He was the only one doing vitrectomy (a branch of surgery to treat problems of the eye's retina and vitreous) in 1984, and in one year of joining him, he trained me to become a vitreous and retina surgeon. To the patients, he was the most compassionate doctor,” adds Dr Natarajan, who shares his name with Dr Badrinath in the Retina Hall of Fame by the American Society of Retina Specialists.
One of the earliest patients Dr Badrinath operated on after his return to India was the pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal. In his interactions with Dr Badrinath, the spiritual teacher is said to have directed him to create “hundreds of more Badrinaths”, a guidance that he took to heart, before starting the Medical and& Vision Research Foundation in Chennai, along with a few philanthropists.
Sankara Nethralaya was started as a charitable non-profit ophthalmic research institute of this foundation.
“He was like a brother to my mom, and called her for the inauguration of Sankara Netralaya. He spent time with me after I lost my parents. As a student, I learned some of my most valuable lessons watching him work,” Dr Amar Agarwal, Chairman and Managing Director of Dr Agarwal's Eye Hospital and Eye Research Centre.
Dr Badrinath’s friends and students recall his love for Carnatic music and Bharathiyar poems that they say often played at his office every morning.
Doctors from across the country and the world took to social media on Tuesday to express their grief.
“His contributions to eye care and his relentless service to society have left an indelible mark. His work will continue to inspire generations. Condolences to his family and loved ones,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Dr Badrinath is survived by his wife Dr Vasanthi Badrinath—a paediatrician and haematologist, and two sons.
Edited by Kanishk Singh