The sudden death of Puneeth Rajkumar of a heart attack on Friday left his family and fans lost. But even in that moment of crushing grief, his brother Raghavendra called the eye bank, asking them to collect the actor’s eyes for donation.
When thousands had gathered at Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru to say an emotional goodbye to the popular actor, doctors in an eye hospital in the city were transplanting his corneas into the eyes of four patients.
Eye donation is important for Puneeth’s family. The eyes of his father and superstar Dr Rajkumar were donated in 2006 and those of his mother, Parvathamma, in 2017.
Dr Bhujang Shetty, chairman and managing director of Narayana Nethralaya, told NDTV, “I got a call from Raghavendra Rajkumar. It was he who called me when Dr Rajkumar died too. He said, “Doctor, this has happened. Kindly come and collect the eyes.'”
“He was a little worried because Vikram Hospital, where Puneeth had been admitted, was blocked. There were huge crowds there and he was worried how I would reach. So I decided to go in an ambulance so that I could get close to the hospital as soon as possible,” Mr Shetty said.
The eyes collected, doctors at the Narayana Nethralaya then took up the challenge of splitting the two corneas to benefit more people.
Dr Shetty said, “We planned to split the cornea into half and give the front portion to two people who have front corneal defect. And the back to two who have back corneal defects. We have never done it before with two eyes of one person and all with all 4 people on the same day.”
“It was a logistic challenge, but definitely worth all the effort,” he said. “It needs a huge team. A team of 6 corneal specialists operated for almost 8 hours across 3 operation theatres to do this job because he deserved it,” Dr Shetty said.
The example set by the family has inspired over 1,000 people to pledge their eyes at the eyebank named after Dr Rajkumar since Puneeth’s death.
Veeresh MPM, manager of the Dr Rajkumar Eye Bank, told NDTV, “Our beloved Puneeth Rajkumar donated his eyes. Within 4 days, we collected 28 eyes. In one night, we collected 10 eyes. People are calling 24X7. They are asking how to donate eyes. They are calling from all over Karnataka, also from remote places.”
Dr Shetty said India already has low eye donation numbers and this came down almost 90 per cent during Covid.
“In our country, more than 15 to 20 lakh people require this kind of surgery. They are called corneal blind people and they can get eyesight only if someone donates. But unfortunately in our country there is a big shortage and a huge gap between demand and supply. Overall, we collect around 55 to 60 thousand eyes throughout the country in a year. It is just not sufficient for the huge backlog,” he said.
Puneeth Rajkumar is known for the way he helped people. Even after his death, the donation of his eyes has given eyesight to four people and raised awareness about this vital issue.