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Sreedhareeyam: Vision For All

Ajay Ghosh

After traveling nearly 20 hours New York, I arrived at Kochi international airport on December 30, 2005.  Then it was an hour drive by car through rubber, coconut, and banana plantations, to my final destination, Sreedhareeyam, an Ayruvedic Eye Research Center and Hospital at the picturesque town, Koothatookulam.

As my car entered the iron gates below the tall entry-tower, the aroma of herbal medicines originating from the medicines manufacturing unit and the Research Center welcomed me. Less than 50 meters into the sprawling Hospital Campus is the Temple of Goddess Nellikattu Mana Bhaghavathy, the local Deity. About a dozen steps lead up to the presence of the Goddess, Whose presence and blessings are believed to be the last resort to thousands of patients who come here seeking vision to their many eye diseases.

After paying Rupees 150, roughly $3.00, I was issued a Registration Card, and the receptionist told me in a gentle voice: “Dr. N.P.P. Namboothiri is on duty today. But, before that, you got to see the Junior Doctor, Dr. Rajesh.” While waiting to see the doctor, I took a walk to Naalukettu, the more than 300-year-old building, where the Namboothiri family had started the Eye Clinic more nearly two centuries ago. At the center of Naalukettu, in the little prayer room, the staff and patients begin each day with a short prayer and songs, seeking the blessings and protection of the Nellikattu Mana Bhaghavathy.

After waiting for about 45 minutes, I got to meet with Dr. Rajesh, a middle-aged Ayurvedic physician, who has been working at Sreedhareeyam since its inception more than a dozen years ago. He went through patiently my detailed reports I had brought from the doctors who treated my eyes in the US. It was a full 20 minutes consultation, during which he enquired of my current overall health, in addition to my eye problems.

In December 2000, I was diagnosed with Uveitis with Vasculitis and peripheral neovascularization. After being treated with Prednisone, a steroid, upto 100 mg per day, though my vision had improved, it had inflicted several side-effects on my entire physical as well as mental health. Later on, after several surgeries that included a cataract, laser-surgeries, and Vitrectomy, I was put on Cellcept, a substitute for prednisone, 2000 mg per day in addition to Predforte, which is a steroid, Cosopt and Alphagan, all eye-drops, twice daily.  Whenever, I was off anyone of these medications, the vision would deteriorate and/or the pressure on the eye would increase.

In November 2004, Dr. James Weisz of the Connecticut Retina Consultants, found that “the optic nerve head had some modest cupping with some inferior thinning.” After examining my eyes on July 8, 2005, Dr. Weisz mentioned that I had “the history of uveitis, presumed to be secondary to Sarcoidosis and this uveitis is complicated by retinal vasculitis as well as vitreous hermorrhage in the right eye.” In addition, he had mentioned that I have the history of “increased pressure with steroids and steroids are necessary to keep your inflammation under control.” My pressure on the right has been difficult to control with “some progressive glaucomatous damage to the optic nerve in your right eye.”

It was then I decided to seek ayurvedic treatment, a medical science of ancient India, dating back to over 5,000 years. Sreedhareeyam Ayureda Gaveshana Kendram is an endeavor by Nellikattu Mana, a Namboodiri family with traditional experiences and talents in Ayurveda treatment especially in the treatment of eye diseases. Sreedhareeyam, started in the year 1999 with the aim of offering the best of Ayurveda to the public, is located virtually in the lap of nature amidst acres of green paddy fields, coconut groves and banana plantations.

After examining my eyes with a hand-held tiny torch, Dr. Rajesh prescribed my daily dose of medications through my stay at the Hospital. My prescriptions included, Nasyam and Kashayam at 6 am. After breakfast, my main treatment would begin at about 8 am with Nethradhara, Eye Drops, Purampada, and Thalam, each with an interval of about 10-15 minutes. The same procedures would be repeated in the afternoon, and will conclude with Kashayam at about 6 pm.

After a few minutes, I was led to visit the senior most physician and the Medical Superintendent at Sreedhareeyam, Dr. N P P Namboothiri, a famous eye physician from the Mana, who is the mentor and guide to the hospital. Dr. Namboothiri, a decorated and highly successful Ayurvedic physician, who had worked for 27 years as a Senior Medical Officer at the Goverment Ayurveda Hospital in Thodupuzha, is well known all over India for his prowess with the eye. Dr. Namboothiri, who had treated me during my first visit in July 2005, felt satisfied at the progress I have made in the intervening months. He suggested that I started with the treatment plan prescribed by Dr. Rajesh, and that he would evaluate its impact in about a week. The final and described as the most important of all treatment s one receives here is Tharpana. In tharpana, medicines in liquid are made to stand on the eye for 15-30 minutes within a rim around the orbit made of 'Uzhunnu Mavu'. This is followed by folding one’s eyes for two-to-three hours, preventing it from any signof light, and giving complete rest to the eyes.

It was a full three weeks of treatment for me at Sreedhareeyam. My first visit was for four weeks and my vision had showed signs of improvement. The inflammation on the retina was substantially reduced and the damage to the optic nerve was contained, which I thought, was the biggest achievement of the treatment I received at Sreedhareeyam. The cataract on my left eye was healed without a surgery, although the pressure on my right remained elevated. Doctors here had advised me to return for a follow up treatment in about 4-6 months.

At Sreedhareeyam, where more than two dozen trained eye-specialists, all with degrees in Medicine, the primary focus has been on Ayurvedic treatments for all types of diseases. However, specialized treatments are given for the various diseases affecting the positions above the neck. Most of the eye diseases, which have got no treatment in modern medicine, have been successfully treated here. People come here from all strata of society and from all corners of the world. Most of the patients here at this nearly 200-bed hospital are those who have tried the regular Western medicines and have been given up as having no cure for their problems. They choose to come here as the final resort, and hope that Sreedhareeyam is the answer to many of their eye diseases.

Jayachandran, a 43-year-old male, originally from Bangalore, now living in Japan, told this writer, “I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare hereditary disorder, which causes poor night vision and ever-narrowing field of vision beginning in childhood.” About 12 years ago, he lost his vision completely and was declared blind. After being treated around the world for several years with no positive results, he heard about Sreedhareeyam, and came here about two years ago. “It’s my fifth visit in two years. I am beginning to see for the first time in 12 years,” Jayachandran said with a sense of joy and satisfaction. “The doctors here have been able to arrest the process of degeneration, and they have assured me that I can regain about 10 to 20 percent of my vision, which is great.”

Simran, 10 and Sonal, 12, two sisters from Sydney, Australia, were here for treatment for Retinitis Pigmentosa. Online search for treatment for this rare eye disease by their desperate parents brought them here at Sreedhareeyam. After four visits with a gap of three months between each visit, now the doctors at Sreedhareeyam, have advised them to return to Sreedhareeyam after two years. There was a sense of relief and inner joy on the face of the Mr. V. Goyal, the father of these two young kids, realizing that the process of degeneration has been arrested and their vision will be stable.
Ella Murugan is a 20-year-old boy from Salem, Tamil Nadu. He was diagnosed with Retinal Detachment, and was treated at the famous Sankara Netralaya in Chennai for more than three years. “After each surgery done on my eyes at Sankara Nethralaya, I began to lose my vision, and I became totally blind,” he said. “This is my fourth visit in less than two years, and now my eyes can see things and people around me, as though they are shadows.” He expressed confidence that in the near future, he will begin to see more clearly.

The story of Abdul, a 10-year-old boy from northern Kerala was heart-breaking. While playing with his friends, a sharp wooden stick pierced through his right eye, severely damaging his retina and the optic nerves, resulting in severe bleeding of the retina, thus leading to the loss of vision. In December 2005, he was at Sreedhareeyam for his third hospitalization in 15 months. “Also, his bleeding on the retina has been contained,” his mother told this writer. “He has begun to see partially,” she added.

These are only a few of the hundreds of success stories one gets to witness during the stay from patients who come here for various eye diseases. “Results from the treatment here are the only publicity we do,” said, Narendran, Executive Director of Sreedhareeyam. “Our ever-increasing number of patients is a witness to the impact of the treatment patients receive here. Our publicity is by word-of-mouth only of these success stories.”

“At Sreedhareeyam, ours is a humble attempt to treat the disease and annihilate it through the way of nature,” says Dr. Narayanan Namboothiri, who treats patients from the same room in Naalukettu, where he was born 34 years ago. “Patients from all over the world come here for various eye diseases, including those suffering from Cataract, Glaucoma, Macular Degeneration, and Diabetic Retinopathy. We strive to give them our best, trusting in God’s power to heal them,” the gentle-speaking Dr. Narayanan Namboothiri says.

To be continued:


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