Better known as Dr V to his colleague and patients, Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy, founded the Aravind Eye Hospital, a hospital chain which has now grown into a network of eye hospitals across the country. As per a blog post by Google, Venkataswamy began Aravind Eye Hospital as a meagre 11-bed facility, only to see his efforts pay off and evolve into an institution over the years.
Born on this day in 1918, Govindappa Venkataswamy was born and raised in Vadamalapuram, a rural village in Southern India. He began his education at a school with no paper or pencils, where students wrote with their hands by spreading sand from the riverbank on the ground. Despite his humble beginnings, he was able to earn a BA in Chemistry from the American College in Madurai and later an MD from Stanley Medical College in Chennai (erstwhile Madras) in 1944.
Venkataswamy went on to join the Indian Army Medical Corps right after completing medical school but his career soon took a serious setback as he was diagnosed with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. This was so severe that he was confined to his bed for a year. He slowly recovered and was able to get back to academics and study for a degree in ophthalmology in 1951.
Despite issues with his health, Dr V quickly learnt to perform surgery to remove cataracts and could perform 100 surgeries in a day. He was soon set out to open eye camps in rural communities, a rehab center for the blind and a training program for ophthalmic assistants, during which he personally performed over 1,00,000 successful eye surgeries.
In 1973, Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy received the Padmashree award from the Government of India for his astonishing efforts.
Facing mandatory retirement at age 58, in 1976 he began what is claimed to be the second innings of his life, establishing the GOVEL Trust, in order to fund the first Aravind Eye Hospital.
The first 11-bed facility was financed by doctors mortgaging their homes and donating their own furniture. The vision was to devote six beds to those patients who could not pay anything and to cover those costs with the other five beds.
Today, Aravind Eye Hospital has nearly 4,000 beds, with doctors performing over 2,00,000 eye surgeries each year, with 70 percent of patients paying little or nothing. To bring things into perspective, each year, the eye hospital performs 60 percent as many eye surgeries as the NHS in Great Britain, doing so at one-one thousandth of the cost.