Fifty-year-old Jamil Ahmad has not been able to see since 2002, when an eye infection took away his vision. Despite undergoing several surgeries at Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) in Peshawar, his vision could not be restored. But hope arrived this week when he underwent cornea transplant at KTH after two strangers who had never met before collaborated to provide the gift of sight to those suffering from blindness.
Peshawar resident Saeedullah Afridi and Sri Lankan national Ifthikhar Aziz met on an Islamabad-bound flight from Dubai in March by mere chance.
“One of my fellow passengers came and requested that I exchange my seat with him, so I obliged,” recalled Afridi. Following the move, Afridi ended up sitting next to Ifthikhar Aziz, president of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Friendship Trade and Investment Association. The two struck up a conversation and Afridi invited Aziz for dinner to his house in Islamabad.
According to Afridi, Aziz visited Pakistan in March and they ended up discussing organ donation since Sri Lanka is the world’s topmost cornea donor country. The cornea is the clear front part of the eye, which lets in light and helps focus images on the retina. Damage to the cornea results in deterioration of sight, sometimes to the point of blindness.
Afridi said he knew a lot of people who had lost their eyesight especially in terrorist attacks such as bomb blasts and several others who had lost their vision due to old age.
“We discussed the issue and Aziz expressed willingness to extend support since he was already involved in the donation of corneas from Sri Lanka,” Afridi tells media.
He adds that initially, Aziz arranged for the donation of 19 corneas. His only condition was that they are provided free of charge. Afridi agreed to this and also agreed to bear the cost of the transplant surgeries.
Afridi’s friend Dr Zaman Shah completed his medical specialisation in April and he pitched him the idea. Dr Shah, who works at KTH, offered his services to perform the procedure for free.
“It was the moment for the three of us to go for it,” Afridi said.
According to Dr Shah, the cost of a cornea transplant at public hospitals is around Rs40,000, if a donated cornea is available. But at private hospitals, the costs can be anywhere between Rs170,000 to Rs200,000.
Dr Shah said it was fortunate that the KTH administration let them carry out the surgeries using the deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty, which is rarely practised in Pakistan.
Speaking to media over the phone, Aziz, who arranged the donations from Sri Lanka, termed it a “great service for humanity”.
He added 19 donations had been made to KTH, around 100 corneas have been donated to various hospitals in the country so far, and 150 more will be donated over the next few months.
“I cried when I heard about the situation [from Afridi],” Aziz said.
He added others like Afridi should come forward to do more such deeds to help those who are desperate to be able to see again.
Ahmad, one of the recipients who underwent surgery at KTH on Monday, was stunned to find out that something as simple as a cornea transplant would restore his vision after almost 15 years.
“Ever since I had the procedure and that too free of charge, I have started believing in serving humanity,” said Ahmad, whose eyes are still bandaged for the moment.