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An Interview With Dr. Sanduk Ruit “God of Sight”

Dr. Sanduk Ruit’s mission is to bring eyesight to anyone who needs it, regardless of his or her ability to pay with pre- and post-operative care that rivals the highest quality health care throughout the world. Dr. Ruit developed a suture less form of cataract surgery, a technique allowing safe, high-volume, low-budget operations. A masterful surgeon, he performs dozens of flawless cataract operations at eye camps over a 12-hour day. Working tirelessly at the operating table he says “the surgical chair is the most comfortable place on Earth I have.”

Dr. Ruit helped found the Tilganga Eye Centre in 1994. Tilganga treats 2,500 patients a week and surgery fees are waived for the needy. Because many of the poor and blind cannot make it to Kathmandu, Dr. Ruit reaches out to them by trekking into remote parts of Nepal and throughout the Himalayas. Dr. Ruit and colleagues from Tilganga have worked as far afield as North Korea, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Ghana.

sandukSanduk Ruit was born in Olangchungola, Nepal, a remote village in Eastern Nepal. The nearest school was a week’s walk away. There were no health posts. Ruit’s sister died of tuberculosis when he was 17. This experience led him to become a doctor. Ruit completed a three-year ophthalmology residency at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, India. He returned to Nepal. In 1980, while working on a Nepal Blindness Survey, he met Fred Hollows who became his mentor. Fred helped make his life goal clear: the restoration of eyesight to people who were unnecessarily blind. In 1986, Sanduk Ruit studied with Hollows for 14 months at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital in Australia.

Hollows and Ruit held the conviction that all people with treatable blindness have the right to restored eyesight; and that people in developing countries deserve access to the same quality of care and technology as people in the developed world. They also shared an ambitious vision: the elimination of avoidable blindness in the Himalayan region.

In Australia, Sanduk Ruit learned the latest cataract micro-surgery technique using implanted intraocular lenses. He took his knowledge to the poorest of the poor. Today he continues to trek through the most remote regions of Nepal conducting eye camps and restoring sight to thousands of the blind.

Dr. Ruit has received many awards in recognition of his work. He was awarded with the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2006 and Thailand’s Prince Mahidol Award in 2007. In 2010, he received one of Nepal’s greatest honours – the Ujjwol Kirtimaya Rashtra Deep award for his medical contributions to the country.

peopleV. The Founder Avatar Lama H.E. the third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche appreciated your vision to restore people’s eyesight and bring the blind out of the darkness. Since 1995, the monastery has been sponsoring and organizing surgeries and intra-ocular implants with you as the driving force. Where do you get the energy to work tirelessly at the operating table performing dozens of operations at a stretch?

SR. Every human being is born with certain limitations and certain strengths. I realized early on that the only strength that I have is my hands and my eyes. I can utilize my eyes to see what my hands can do on the eyes. I don’t have many other strengths so realizing very accurately that you can’t live forever I try to see how best I can utilize my strength. That’s why I sit down for long hours and even if I don’t do anything…I probably restore a few more people’s eyesight.

V. You come from a remote village in Eastern Nepal. A doctor of your high caliber could have easily opted for foreign shores and could have a lived luxurious life overseas. But you chose to stay here in Nepal and restore the eyesight of blind people making house calls in remote impoverished areas, trekking for days on end. What keeps you going?

dr.srSR. We are all born with mission and it’s a very special thing. I’m at a stage where I’ve realized that my mission is to learn how best I can restore the sight for others, and how I can help others to do that multiply that effect with training. I’m trying to set up other centers around the world. I get my strength from individual patients who just 12 hours ago were not able to see light in darkness and suddenly you open the bandage and patients are able to see everything with emotions. The smile you see on their face really keeps me going. That’s a very powerful moment, very powerful moment! Many people do not have the opportunity to do this. I have this abundance. If I had left for overseas I don’t think I’d have such an opportunity to work and make a difference in hundreds, thousands and millions of people’s lives. I’m sure what I’ve done is great and worthwhile.

V. I think from my personal view God sent you on earth for a reason with a purpose.

SR. Everybody has a purpose. You have a purpose. I have a purpose.eye-checking

V. This is the 19th Eye-camp held at Pullahari monastery and an annual affair. Could you please elaborate the significance of the initiative of Pullhari Monastery in community involvement and their contribution to the society?

SR. I look at myself and I feel for certain I don’t practice any religion. I’m so busy I’ve no time to think. I’ve total faith in Buddhist philosophy. The founder Avatar Lama of this monastery H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul the 3rd who passed away was really a great friend and a teacher. Since the late 80’s through Tenzing Dorjee, I met lots of spiritual people from different religious backgrounds, Hinduism, Buddhism…Islam…but in him I found a sense of purpose. He was committed to the welfare of unprivileged people. H.E. always thought that if we could do something extra besides our normal ritual of prayers and lighting lamps medicine and health care is a social service that’s much stronger than actual religion. That’s why I became very closely attached to his philosophy and he always wanted to take me to places where there were many needs. It’s unfortunate he passed away so early but his disciples Tenzing Dorjee, Khenpo Chokyi and Mr. Trinley in Kalimpong all of them helped start the first modern cataract surgery in northeastern India and the first modern cataract surgery in Tibet. Through their effort in Tibet we have now trained 50 local doctors. We have an institute in Lhasa which is almost self-sustaining and does about 2,000 surgeries a year on a routine basis. We have another centre developing in Ching Hai, China.

Now we have a hospital in Kalimpong at the Hospice care service which is run by the Paramita Charitable Trust with the same concept of delivering the service helping poor people. Wealthy people also come for quality surgery, they are able to pay for the service and from this we can help more poor people. That’s how we sustain ourselves. That hospital is a model with a husband and wife doctor team and another 15 doctors on an annual basis. They perform 2,000 surgeries in the community. In that area it is the only functioning eye-centre.

Anand Sangh has also helped us to build our first operating theatre at Tilganga when we needed resources. Our partnership goes back a long time. Our partnership is based on common teacher Founder Avatar Lama, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul the Third’s extreme sense of trust understanding the same vision we have.

V.Same Mission.

Vairochana

Vairochana

Hi! I am Pasang, your editor-in-chief and publisher of Vairochana. The Vairochana newsletter is created on a vision to galvanize a sense of community in the Boudha region of Kathmandu.

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