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Gift of sight enables intensive care consultant to work through pandemic

Image of Radha Sundaram

Intensive care consultant, Dr Radha Sundaram, 46, from Glasgow, has spoken of her gratitude at having her sight restored, thanks to the two donors who enabled her to continue her career, and be a mum to her two boys. 

Radha was just 41 when she was diagnosed with Fuchs dystrophy in July 2014 – a condition which resulted in her vision gradually deteriorating over time, and would eventually require a corneal transplant. 

As someone whose profession involves approaching families about organ and tissue donation, she suddenly found herself on the other side, waiting for the sight restoring surgery. 

Thanks to both donors and their families, surgery on the first eye was able to ahead in June 2015, with the second transplant taking place in the October 2015.  After both surgeries, Radha was able to drive after six weeks, and was back working at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley after eight weeks.

In 2019 / 20, 46 people in Scotland donated their eyes, some of whom also donated organs or other tissue, to save and improve the lives of others. 

The law around organ and tissue donation in Scotland is set to change to an opt out system from 26 March 2021. The change in law means that if people aged 16 and over have not recorded a decision about donation, they will be considered as a possible donor when they die.

Organ and tissue donation remains a personal decision and everyone has a choice – to either register to be a donor or opt out of donation, but making that choice known is vital. 

Radha first noticed issues with her sight in late 2013, describing her vision as ‘foggy’ and noticing it was taking her eyes longer and longer to clear when she woke up.  

This started to impact her personal and professional life, particularly when working on call, resulting in her eventually limiting her sleep to just four hours per night. 

Radha who has been an intensive care consultant for 13 years said: 

“My condition usually presents in people over 70 so being diagnosed at my age was unusual.  Although my eyes would clear after a period of time once I woke up, I became increasingly anxious about my ability to work and drive and found myself sleeping less and less as a result. 

“Without the transplants, I would have had to give up my job as an intensive care consultant. I’m very grateful to have the ability to work during the pandemic, when I’m needed the most, and couldn’t have imagined not being part of the team over the past few months. 

“On a personal level, it’s allowed me to be a mother and do all the things that come with raising children, even everyday things like dropping them at school.

“I had some complications with the surgeries, but following my recovery, things just came back into focus. I remember passing the local park and seeing all the contrasting colours on the trees which made me realise the quality of my vision. 

“The transplants have completely transformed my life and I’m so, so grateful to my donors for their generosity, and their families for making that decision at such a distressing time.  I’ve written letters to try to put into words what they have done for me. 

“As someone who approaches all families at the end of life to discuss organ and tissue donation, I have seen a societal change over the years in how it is viewed with more and more families raising it before we do.  

“It is important people discuss what they’d want to happen with their family, whether they want to be a donor or opt out of donation, as it will make it easier for them to ensure that decision is honoured.

“Whilst tissue donation isn’t lifesaving, having sight means the difference between working and not working, helping and not helping, having the ability to contribute socially and economically. 

“For those who are young, it allows them to go to college and work, for the elderly it allows them to continue to care for themselves.  Its impact is huge and I’ll always be grateful.”

Colin Faichnie, Team Manager, Scotland Organ Donation Services Team NHSBT said: 

“Tissue and organ donation is only possible due the generosity of people who make the decision to be and organ and tissue donors. Each year many lives are saved or enhanced as a direct result of these transplants. At NHSBT we thank all donors and their loved ones for their support in helping others through donation.”