Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIII No. 16, December 1-15, 2023

S.S. Badrinath, a pioneering eye-surgeon of Chennai

-- by Suresh Dalapathy,

On 21 November 2023 Madras lost one of its illustrious and remarkable sons: Dr Sengamedu Srinivas Badrinath (SSB). SSB was born on February 24, 1940 in Triplicane, Madras, to S.V. Srinivasa Rao and Lakshmi Devi. He did his schooling in Pennathur Subramaniam (PS) High School, Mylapore and Sri Ramakrishna Mission High School, T.Nagar. He completed his Intermediate at the Loyola College, and joined the Madras Medical College to complete his M.B.B.S. He pursued his post-graduate study specializing in Ophthalmology at Grassland Hospital, New York University’s Post-graduate Medical school and Brooklyn Eye and Ear Infirmary between 1963 and 1968. He was admitted into the Fellowship of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, after training with Dr. Charles L. Schepens between 1968 and 1970. He was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Canada) and a Fellow of the American Board of Medical Specialties in 1969 and 1970, respectively.

In 1978, SSB established the Medical Research Foundation (MRF) in College Road, Chennai, which was blessed by Sri Sri Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. He was the President of Medical Research Foundation, a registered society, a charitable non-profit ophthalmic organization of which Sankara Nethralaya was the hospital wing. Towards the end of his life he served the MRF as the Chairman Emeritus.

SSB was introduced to me by my father D.V. Rama Krishna Rao (The British Council Library, Madras), when I was 10 years old and in my sixth standard. SSB, a highly skilful vitreo-retinal surgeon treated my grandfather for retinal complications. I vividly remember the day when I asked SSB whether I could volunteer at Sankara Nethralaya during my summer vacation break in 1982. He agreed with an emphatic ‘yes’, saying, ‘you can start from tomorrow’. I began the next day at Sankara Nethralaya as a volunteer either at the reception desk, or helping new patients, or in the pharmacy inventory, or working with the busy secretaries, or undertaking any other errand the Sankara Nethralaya staff assigned me. I fondly remember the inauguration of the Dharmasala building by the then President of India R. Venkataraman, the construction of the Mahyco Block, the founding of the Elite School of Optometry, the Chennai Willingdon Hospital expansion, the birth of Sankara Nethralaya Kolkata, and the subsequent landmark events that helped Sankara Nethralaya expand its footprint in Chennai city and elsewhere over the last four decades of its committed service to India and the world. My relationship with SSB and Sankara Nethralaya warmly and pleasantly continued over the decades and my specific interactions to support the needs of the growing institution morphed into my close association with the Sankara Nethralaya Ophthalmic Mission Trust, USA, which collected funds to assist deserving patients with free-ophthalmic procedures.

Dr. Badrinath with one of his patients. Picture from our archives.

What amazed me was SSB’s passion in conceptualising ideas, breathing life into them, and giving them firm shapes. He marshalled support and cooperation from local teams to help execute programmes meticulously. Sheer diligence in raising awareness of the growing needs of the institution and the various facets of the organisation that demanded additional financial resources from home and abroad were noteworthy traits of his vision and leadership. SSB enthusiastically and strongly believed that any micro contribution in terms of sweat equity to raise awareness can and will support Sankara Nethralaya and its army of surgeons dedicated to eye care.

The Maneckjis’ bungalow in College Road where Nethralaya commenced operations. Picture from our archives.

SSB would often say that he was just an instrument in that action, when many would support and participate in his cause. That sense of being an instrument gave him immense satisfaction, as these programmes and projects fructified, touched every deserving person, be they within the city of Chennai or in the villages of India. For all of them, surgeons at Sankara Nethralaya travelled in their Mobile Eye Surgical Units (MESU), conducting large-scale eye-screening camps, offering free eyeglasses in their own fit-for-purpose eyeglass dispensing trucks, or even performing cataract eye surgeries. He translated the then fledgling concepts of Tele-Ophthalmology and Tele-Medicine into reality by meeting the needs of rural patients with the surgeons stationed at the base facility in Chennai.

The above are just a few illustrations of the grit and will power of SSB, who sparkled with innovation, commitment to quality of work, and sheer tenacity of execution combined with an extreme sense of quality and cost consciousness in a resource-limited setting.

Thus with a deeply engrained personal discipline and high-value principles, SSB lived until his end contributing to national efforts in delivering eye care in India with a 20-20 focus of transforming Sankara Nethralaya into a band of skilled and committed professionals and research capabilities working on disease trends, emerging needs, and healthcare delivery models focused on the overall well-being of every Indian. The deep sense of belief and the vision of the capabilities of what Sankara Nethralaya can give back to the country as a continuously learning and growing institution are the hallmarks of every brick SSB used to build this institution.

Many recognitions were ­bestowed on this great son of India. To name of few, the Government of India awarded ‘Padma Sri’ in 1983, ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 1999, the Medical Council of India recognized him with the Bidhan Chandra Roy National Award in 1991, The Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) ­recognised him with the ‘Life-Time Achievement Award’ in 2005, He was a consulting ophthalmologist to the Armed Forces of India and an ex-officio member of the Armed Forces Medical Research Committee. SSB published articles in several leading medical and ophthalmological journals of India and the world.

While we sadly and deeply mourn the passing of SSB, we need to take a moment to honour his incomparable legacy of humility, strong sense of ethics and integrity, service to humanity, passion committed as a karma yogi, noble values in serving the patients, clinical training excellence, nation-centric R&D efforts in eye care, expansion deep into the community care setting and pushing the envelope of science in a passionate and cost-conscious way. SSB is survived by his wife S. B. Vasanthi, also a medical doctor, and sons Seshu Badrinath and Ananth S. Badrinath.

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  1. Pushpa Reddy says:

    It’s very heartening that you have touched on every aspect of Dr SSB and penned all about what HE is.. and published it. Thank you God Bless

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