Dr Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath, an eminent vitreoretinal surgeon and the visionary founder of Sankara Nethralaya, died in his sleep at his residence in Chennai on Tuesday. He was 83.
Dr Badrinath, who stepped down from active practice in 2019, was battling age-related ailments. He is survived by his wife, Dr Vasanthi Iyengar, and their two sons, Ananth and Seshu Badrinath. His last rites were performed at Besant Nagar crematorium in the city.
Condoling Dr Badrinath’s demise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Dr. Badrinath’s “contributions to eyecare and his relentless service to society have left an indelible mark”. “His work will continue to inspire generations. Condolences to his family and loved ones. Om Shanti,” the PM posted on X.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin said he was saddened to learn about the demise of the renowned ophthalmologist.
Hailing Dr Badrinath as the epitome of extraordinary vision, selfless service, and compassion, Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi in a post on ‘X’ said, “Through #SankaraNethralaya, he touched the lives of millions of poor and needy. Condolences to his family and followers. Om Shanti!”
Deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. SS Badrinath Ji, a visionary, expert in ophthalmology and founder of Sankara Nethralaya. His contributions to eye care and his relentless service to society have left an indelible mark. His work will continue to inspire generations.…
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 21, 2023
The Kanchi Math, with which Dr Badrinath shared a special bond, posted on X, “Sri Dr. S.S. Badrinath’s devotion and seva to Their Holiness Pujya Shankaracharya Swamigals is unparalleled. With abundant blessings of His Holiness, he served the society & Nation through Vaidya seva for several decades. Prayers for his sadgati.”
Born in Triplicane, Chennai, on February 24, 1940, Dr Badrinath lost both his parents during his teenage years. He pursued a career in medicine, graduating from Madras Medical College in 1962, securing the highest marks in ophthalmology in the university examination.
Later, he went to the United States, where he completed his postgraduate studies in ophthalmology from Grasslands Hospital, New York University Postgraduate Medical School, and Brooklyn Eye and Ear Infirmary between 1963 and 1968.
He got married to Dr Iyengar, a renowned pediatrician and hematologist, in 1967. Dr Badrinath’s tenure at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, under the mentorship of Dr Charles L Schepens was considered a significant period in his career before he achieved the distinction of becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Canada) and passing the American Board Examination in Ophthalmology.
Dr Badrinath returned to India in 1970, setting up a private practice in Chennai. He worked at the prestigious Voluntary Health Services (VHS), Adyar, and later at H M Hospital and Vijaya Hospital. In his own words in an interview many years ago, his path took a “significant turn in 1974 when he operated on the Kanchi pontiff Sri Chandrasekerendra Saraswathi”. Within a year, inspired by the Mahaperiyava, as the Kanchi Math chief was fondly called by followers, he envisioned a hospital dedicated to affordable and accessible eyecare. Sankara Nethralaya was founded in 1978.
Started as a non-profit ophthalmic organisation, the institute has played a key role in transforming the landscape of eyecare in India. Dr Badrinath built the hospital primarily through donations, which has now become a significant centre that offers free treatment to economically weaker sections besides training a generation of ophthalmologists and paramedics.
Sankara Nethralaya handles over 1,200 new patients a day and performs about 100 surgeries daily. It aims to combat blindness in India and make advanced research and sustainable indigenous solutions for eyecare accessible to common people.
Dr Badrinath’s belief in affordable healthcare service for the poor wasn’t just a philosophy, nor was it achieved with only donations from the rich. There were numerous cultural and art initiatives that he designed for fund raising such as US concert tours. One such concert tour in 2016, that commemorated the centenary of M S Subbulakshmi, helped raise funds for 3,000 free cataract surgeries.
Renowned jurist, late Nani A Palkhivala, was one of the many who recognised Dr Badrinath’s dream of facilitating the most advanced and affordable eyecare for the poor. Moved by the work of Sankara Nethralaya after his visit to the hospital in 1992, he bequeathed his entire wealth to the institution.
Dr Badrinath instituted an award in 2013 in the name of M S Subbulakshmi for persons who supported Sankara Nethralaya in its service initiatives. He was the recipient of Padma Shri award in 1983 and Padma Bhushan in 1999. He was given the Dr B C Roy National Award in 1991.
In his last wishes, according to a senior Sankara Nethralaya official, Dr. Badrinath emphasised continuity of care over mourning. He instructed that no elaborate mourning should halt work at Sankara Nethralaya following his demise. “The instruction was to wear black armbands as a subtle tribute and continue the vital eyecare services, ensuring our legacy that stood for compassionate, uninterrupted care,” the official said.