The history of Sankara Eye Care Institutions is steeped in belief and perseverance. Its story goes back to the 1970s when a young doctor with a flourishing practice in Coimbatore decided that there was something more he ought to be doing as a medical professional. At that time, he was not clear what he wanted to do to change that, but fate had it all planned. A chance visit to the Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple in the city provided him with just that opportunity: under the guidance of the Seers of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, the temple trustees were planning to set up a health care centre exclusively for the poor.
Dr. R.V.Ramani and his wife, Dr. RadhaRamani knew immediately that it was a god send opportunity to serve and fulfil their dream. Dr. Ramani immediately spread the word, got together some like-minded, young medical colleagues, who were willing to contribute one day in a week to provide free care at the centre. He and his wife would spend two days a week at the centre. Although the decisions were made spontaneously, the dream was far from reality: there was no model of a free medical centre to build this venture upon; on the one hand were the government run institutions and on the other, private hospitals that charged appropriately.
That did not deter the young doctor couple. Everything moved as planned and on 21 May, 1977, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Centre opened a 100 square feet clinic for the public. Dr. Ramani recalls that the first table, chairs and the first ceiling fan were donated to the centre by his friends. The Acharya of the Kanchi Mutt urged the team to charge a very nominal fee of 50 paise per patient – in order to add value to the services. News spread and soon, the 100 square feet clinic was hardly enough to accommodate the thronging queue of patients. This heralded a new chapter in the history of medical care in Coimbatore.
In 1978, Dr. Ramani saw an opportunity to start a free immunisation programme at the clinic. In association with the Rotary Clubs of Coimbatore, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Centre began the Measles Immunisation Programme. In the years that followed, the Trust added a clinical laboratory (courtesy of the Lions’ Clubs of Coimbatore) and an X-Ray unit (the funds for this initiative were raised through the benevolence of Padma Bhushan Awardee, Padma Subramanyam’s dance recital on the theme ‘Jaya Jaya Sankara’). Dr. Major. Rao, of the famed Rao Hospital in Coimbatore, offered to spare 5 beds at his hospital and also extended his support to surgical assistance for the poor, through the Trust.
In 5 years time, Dr. Ramani and his team were able to replicate this highly successful health care model at 9 different centres in Coimbatore, in association with different industrial establishments. The initial team of 10 doctors soon grew to a highly skilled and professional team of 75 doctors.
By 1982, the activities of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust had grown very diverse. At this juncture, the Acharyas advised Dr.Ramani to establish Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust, exclusively to oversee health activities. A board of Trustees was appointed and have continued to guide its activities, ever since.
In 1985, a new chapter in the history of the trust was waiting to be born: under the leadership of Dr. Ramani and the persuasion and deep commitment of many doctors, especially Dr. S.Balasubramaniam, the idea of focusing on a specialised area of medical care emerged.
The incidences of preventable and curable blindness in India were very high during that time. In fact, even today, the occurrence of eye disabilities is more than all other disabilities put together. The team also shared the view that eye disabilities are more crippling than other disabilities because of the dependency that they cause. At the same time, they are the easiest to cure, in terms of ability and financial resources. To put it in the words of Mr. Bala, current Mentor & Director, “At Rs. 5,000, which other disability can you do away with?” Eye surgeries also have a very high rate of success. For these reasons, it was decided that eye care would be their specialty.
Naturally, the 10*10 square foot clinic would not do for such a lofty dream; fate would not have it that way either. A good friend of Dr. Ramani, Shri Natraj came forward and donated 5.5 acres of land in Sivanandapuram, in Saravanampatty area of Coimbatore. Back then, this area was a remote hamlet, very unlike the buzzing IT centre that it has become today. The entire land was covered in Parthenium and far removed from the rest of the city. Again, help came in the form of friends. Soon, a fence was erected around the land and coconut trees were planted alongside. A bore well was also sunk and on another side of the fence, avenue trees were planted as well. The residential quarters in the hospital premises were lined with suitable plants as well.
Construction of the hospital that was to be named Sankara Eye Hospital was yet to begin. This is when Dr. S.V. Balasubramaniam, both a visionary and philanthropist came forward to donate a Toyota van and construct a 1,000 square feet consultation centre – Vedanayagam centre within the premises. The van was used for the Trust’s outreach programmes.
From that beginning, there was no looking back. To the team, Sankara, Eye Care was going to be a long-term mission. Therefore, every facet of construction – be it the 10 feet wide corridors, the H-type architecture that segregates outpatient care from diagnostics and inpatient care, paving way for natural light to come in, or demarcating the support activities such as the canteen and purchase areas from the main hospital, were planned, keeping the future in mind. The architecture and construction remains relevant even today.