By teaching himself on his father’s farm and relying on friends for books and clothing in medical college, Tatyarao P. Lahane, MBBS, learned quickly the value of education. “Earn while you learn,” he is known for saying.
But it was his own illness – a bilateral kidney failure – that taught him the true value of life and what he could do for others. Living every day on life-support medication after a kidney transplant, Dr. Lahane has dedicated his life to saving the vision of others.
“Every day I want to work, and I’m going to work until my last breath,” he told Ocular Surgery News in a telephone interview.
Dr. Lahane grew up in rural Maharashtra as a farmer’s son, unaware of where his desire for knowledge would take him.
Tatyarao P. Lahane, MBBS, head of the ophthalmology department at J.J. Hospital, prepares for mission at a surgery camp.
“I was working with my father every day on my farm, and ... whenever I had some leisure time, I was going in the school,” he said. “My headmaster asked my father that I should be taught something, a college education.”
Upon entering college, the headmaster pushed Dr. Lahane toward the sciences, which he excelled in, allowing him to pursue a medical career.
“I stood 10th in the whole Maharashtra division and got admission in the medical school,” he said.
In medical school in Ahmadabad, Dr. Lahane said his friends helped him buy clothes and also books.
“But on the day of my examination in ophthalmology, my father-in-law died, and I failed in ophthalmology,” he said. “I was unable to write the paper. Next time, I passed with excellent marks.”
Still, Dr. Lahane said he was set to enter the pediatric field until he realized he would not be getting paid a residency stipend.
This pushed him toward ophthalmology, and 100,000 patients can be thankful that he made that choice.
A second chance at life
Working at a medical college in rural India after his graduation, Dr. Lahane was inspired by another physician to begin conducting eye camps for the local people.
“There I was going for the camps two to three times in a month and operating for the cataract. In the meantime, in 1991, my bilateral kidney failed,” he said.
In 1994, Dr. Lahane began to travel to Mumbai once a week for 3 years to receive dialysis at Grant Medical College. While he was there, he began to help the struggling department of ophthalmology at J.J. Hospital.
“I was … going for dialysis every Thursday. And still, I was working throughout the week,” he said. “My doctor told me to go for the life insurance because I may die after 1 year.”
Although he took his doctor’s advice, Dr. Lahane was also told that a kidney transplant could save his life. On Feb. 22, 1995, he underwent a kidney transplant using his mother’s donated kidney. “That was my second birth,” he said.
Helping the poor and downtrodden
In an effort to give back to India after his second birth, Dr. Lahane vowed to bring emerging cataract technology to the rural areas of India, specifically to the poor and ill.
He started by staying at J.J. Hospital in the department of ophthalmology, in which he had already implemented changes.
“When I joined the hospital, it was in bad shape: 30 patients every day and only 600 surgeries in a year,” Dr. Lahane said. “They were aiming to improve the hospital. … I said I will try.”
Joined by his associate professor, Dr. Ragini Parekh, and assisted by existing employees who now work 2 to 6 extra hours per day without additional pay, Dr. Lahane was able to rejuvenate the department.
“With me and all of these people, it was possible to improve the status of this hospital to an international level,” he said.
In 2003, nearly 10 years after Dr. Lahane began this process, the hospital reported completing 9,000 cataract surgeries.
Dr. Lahane also continued his tradition of conducting eye camps.
“I started sutureless surgery and phaco surgery camps in the rural area of the Maharashtra and the tribal area in the Maharashtra,” he said. “I operated on more than 10,000 tribal patients. I was also working with … the leprosy patients. And I operated on 1,311 leprosy cases for cataract.”
He said he is taking the phaco machines and the microscopes with him, as well as lenses for the patients, to camp and all of his tools used at the camps are disposable.
“I think we have attended 122 camps with the sutureless cataract surgery in the rural and tribal Maharashtra,” Dr. Lahane said.
The technological developments and awareness of sterile procedures also allowed Dr. Lahane to minimize complications in leprosy patients, who were previously undesirable cataract patients because more than one-third had postoperative complications.
“The complications are reduced from 35% to only 1% in 1,311 cases,” he said.
They were reduced by performing proper preoperative examination, then applying modern phaco techniques catered to the known pathology of leprosy.
As with all of his camps, Dr. Lahane said they follow up each site three times and provide the patients with spectacles.
“If any complication occurs, we bring the patient to the hospital in Mumbai and we treat them,” he said. “But out of 25,000 cases, there were one or two complications that we brought to J.J. [Hospital].”
Today, Dr. Lahane is proud of the progress his department has made.
“Now the Department of Ophthalmology in J.J. Hospital is a five-star government hospital with all the instruments and equipment and specialists of level, catering to the Maharashtra rural population and also the Indian people,” he said.
He emphasized that these procedures are performed for free.
“The type of surgery he does in India, it’s nothing different from what is done now in the [United] States,” Dr. Parekh said.
International visitors will not find anything different when they operate in J.J. Hospital, she said.
“In fact, they say that the patients or the cataracts are much more difficult than what you see over there because we are a tropical country,” Dr. Parekh said. “What we try to do is maintain the quality at the world level, not that we are a Third World country or backward. He sees to it that he maintains those standards.”
Dr. Lahane gives postoperative instructions to patients who have received vision-saving procedures at one of his eye camps.
Image: Lahane TP
1 lakh cataract surgeries
One of Dr. Lahane’s greatest accomplishments came to fruition in August 2007 when he completed 100,000 cataract surgeries.
“My feeling is that the second birth of mine has given vision to 1 lakh people, and if they can see, I will be very happy that they have earned the vision,” he said.
Dr. Parekh said despite this achievement, Dr. Lahane is still the hardest-working physician she knows.
“I joined him after I finished my graduation, and I keep working with him because I have never found someone so dedicated and devoted,” she said. “If we have a cornea in the night, you’ll find him operating in the middle of the night.”
In light of his dedication and accomplishments, Dr. Lahane was conferred with the highest civilian award from the government of India. In January, he received the Padma Shri.
“The president was so happy with him that she called him back the next day and spent some time with him,” Dr. Parekh said.
Dr. Lahane is not resting after his milestone surgery but continuing to make changes at J.J. Hospital.
He said he is currently working on performing LASIK and surgical retina procedures.
“I am making this an institute … for the people who are very poor and downtrodden in India,” he said.
His other goal is to increase the donation of corneas in India, where social and religious concerns can hinder people from donating.
“Last month, he got 25,000 people to pledge their eyes,” Dr. Parekh said. “There are 20 lakh corneal blind in India and … he is trying to motivate people to donate their eyes.” — by Katrina Altersitz