Ex-cop on mission to give gift of light
Chandigarh: For a better part of his career, retired Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police Balwinder Bhattal — along with police equipment — carried a pair of crooked scissors, scalp, sponges and preservative cases with him.A box containing these is placed next to his bed at night also. No, as the impression of a policeman goes, these are not tools for third-degree torture, but are life-giving in nature.The tools are means to remove eyes from deceased donors and give vision to the blind. There may be many policemen indulging in social work like blood donation or spreading awareness about organ donation, but Bhattal is not happy just with lecturing others.He is probably the only policemen around who is an expert in removing the eye through proper medical procedure, preserving it and delivering it in time to hospitals.Retired for three years, the police uniform is gone but the medical box continues to be his constant companion.“It is race against time. When I started it way back in 1998, I was told the eye has to be delivered within two hours. Now they say it has to be done within six hours,” Bhattal recalls.A baptised Sikh, he used to distribute free medicines to needy patients coming for treatment to the village dispensary at Bhanot near Ludhiana.As providence had it, he learnt about eye donation when a doctor asked him if he would donate the eyes of his mother who breathed her last at a Ludhiana hospital in 1998.He agreed and felt the joy of seeing his mother alive through her eyes. Then, he started spreading awareness about it from his village.“Eye removal and transplant are minor issues. The real task is to convince the relatives of the deceased and it has to be done fast, starting within minutes of the death when all are mourning and emotions are strong,” he said.He started from his village, but faced stiff opposition. “Gurbani helped me. I recited verses explaining that the physical eyes and other organs would be useless when the soul meets the Almighty. It worked.”Bhattal’s morning routine of waking up before 4 and reciting ‘Paath’ at a local gurdwara helped. On many occasions, he came to know there or on the way about a death and headed straight to the spot on his mission.“It is a sensitive work. I realised that spending at least 15 minutes before and after the removal with the family helped. But doing the convincing and medical procedure took time. Often, the team qualified to do the job reached late. So, I learnt the job myself,” he says.Such has been his influence that he has got 60 eyes donated from his Bhanot village. “The residents of my village are exceptional. After initial resistance, they cooperated with me. Now, almost all residents of my village have pledged to donate eyes,” he said. He doesn’t remember the total count of eyes he has got donated. “Definitely in hundreds,” he said. Bhattal has got 50 eyes removed and transplanted this year.Besides that, he organises or participates in eye and health camps of Shankar Hospital, Ludhiana. “I have been attached with the institution for several years for the free treatment of eye ailments,” he added.He doesn’t have to work alone now. A team of nurses and other staff are at his disposal. He braved personal loss when his 26-year-old son died of cancer. “He had started helping me since he was nine years of age. But God had other plans.”Bhattal wants as many people as possible to pledge their eyes. A devout Sikh, he believes God keeps him going, but he never compromised with his job.“My seniors always cooperate with me. They have awarded me many times. Even CM Capt Amarinder Singh named me one of the five jewels of the state in 2004. These awards gave me recognition and I was able to convince people easily to pledge their eyes to the living,” he said.