Dr. Perugu Siva Reddy: The People’s Ophthalmologist : Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

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Tales of Yore

Dr. Perugu Siva Reddy: The People’s Ophthalmologist

Sen, Mrittika; Reddy, H Siva Mohan1; Honavar, Santosh G2

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doi: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_2174_22
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“There’s no way around hard work. Embrace it.” Roger Federer

We honor the old, we respect the past, and we learn from the legends… in Tales of Yore, we remember the G.O.A.Ts, the Greatest Ophthalmologists of All Time. The list is formidable but one name that stands out is that of Dr. P. Siva Reddy [Fig. 1].

Figure 1:
Dr. P. Siva Reddy with patients

Dr. P. Siva Reddy’s parents, Hussain Reddy and Pullamma, welcomed him into the world on September 12, 1920 in the sleepy village of Dinnedevarapadu, Kurnool district. When tragedy strikes, some are broken, while others rise up stronger, more determined, like a phoenix. He was nine years old when he lost his mother and had just completed high school when his father passed away. He had watched his mother’s painful battle with glaucoma and that was when he decided to pursue Ophthalmology. Dr. Reddy began his medical training in 1940 and earned his M.S. in Ophthalmology in 1952.

He worked as an assistant surgeon at Nandyal and Banaganapalli and then as an Assistant Professor at Andhra Medical College in Vishakhapatnam. Beginning in 1957 as a lecturer, he later rose through the ranks at Osmania Medical College to become Professor and Superintendent at Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital, Hyderabad [Fig. 2]. From 1975 to 1978, he was the Director of Ophthalmology and Professor of postgraduate studies.

Figure 2:
Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital, Hyderabad became a world class, exclusive eye hospital under the leadership of Dr. P. Siva Reddy

Formerly, Sarojini Devi Hospital treated patients for issues related to the eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Dr. Siva Reddy convinced the then Chief Minister, Damodaram Sanjivaiah, who happened to be his childhood friend, of the importance of establishing a hospital devoted solely to the treatment of eye ailments, and the facility was renamed Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital. He oversaw its transformation into a leading institution in the field of Ophthalmology, with a dedicated clinic for every subspecialty (including glaucoma, retina, cornea, and orthoptics). In 1964, with the support of the industrialist Sri T.L. Kapadia, he set up the country’s first eye bank. A people’s person, he was able to generate funds through voluntary efforts and set up the first unit dedicated to the treatment of eye diseases in children, inaugurated by the Honorable President of India Shri V. V. Giri, in 1973.

He was an admirable administrator and during his time, Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital reached its height of glory. He looked after the well-being of all his staff and ensured that the hospital, operation theater (OT), and wards were spotless, personally supervising the maintenance. His attention to detail was impeccable. While on a ward round once, he bent down to inspect beneath the bed, and much to the astonishment and shock of the head nurse, his hawk eye spotted an ant’s head, causing a commotion.

He organized more than 500 mobile eye camps and brought healthcare to the doorsteps of the people with the singular aim of eradicating preventable blindness. He spearheaded the “Operation Cataract Project” (1978–81) that led to the Medak district of the state becoming a “Cataract Free Zone” [Fig. 3].

Figure 3:
Dr. Siva Reddy examining a patient before surgery in a camp

An extraordinary surgeon with ambidextrous abilities, he performed sutureless procedures employing cryo-surgery for the extraction of cataractous lens in the days of ab-externo cataract surgeries using von Graefe’s knife without a microscope or phacoemulsification equipment. His surgeries have been described as pristine and precision unwavering. For eye camps, a team would travel ahead of time to sterilize the makeshift OT which were usually storage sheds. The first incision would be made at sharp 7 am and the OT would go on till the next morning 3.30–4 am…and he was tireless, working non-stop [Fig. 4]. The entire process would happen in a conveyer belt-like methodical fashion: 1. A resident would confirm the history, lab tests, and take consent. 2. The second resident would give local anesthesia. 3. The patient would be moved on a makeshift stretcher onto a trolley in the OT. 4. A third resident would be assigned the task of reading out the history from the bedside. 5. The eye would be confirmed multiple times to eliminate any source of error by the sister, the helper, and then by Dr. Reddy himself. 6. A resident would suture the eyelids. 7. When speaking to a patient, he would always use the patient’s name to make sure he was talking to the proper person and to provide that essential human connection that patients value so much when interacting with their doctors. 8. Once the incision was made, a resident standing at the head end would hand over the cryoprobe to him. 9. At the end of the surgery, the eye would be patched, and the patient transferred on the same stretcher to a recovery room where they would stay for 48 hours [Fig. 5]. Dr. Reddy would move on to the patient kept ready on the next table. He, along with his team would work without food or even a tea break. In this way, 400–500 patients would get operated on in the camps, returning home with a sight and smile.

Figure 4:
Dr. Reddy was an exceptionally skilled, ambidextrous surgeon
Figure 5:
Patients in the postoperative room after surgeries in eye camp

Dr. Reddy and his staff performed more than 3,00,000 cataract operations. He was also the driving force behind the sanctioning of three Regional Eye Hospitals at Warangal, Kurnool, and Vishakhapatnam. He even established a choultry or a dharamshala with his own savings near Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital for the accommodation of the patients coming from villages [Fig. 6].

Figure 6:
The choultry set up by Dr. Siva Reddy for the accommodation of patients

Dr. Reddy was the Founder Member of the Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO), an organization representing more than 25 countries, at Manila in 1961 and was the first Indian to be honored in 1985 by the APAO Jose Rizal Medal. At the behest of the World Health Organization, he led a team to Sri Lanka to demonstrate the way mobile eye camps are to be conducted. He discovered a worm in the orbit, calling it the ’Gordia worm’ which piqued both interest and acclaim in the International Conference of Ophthalmology in Munich, Germany in 1964. Eventually, it was named ’Gordia Reddy’, in his honour. Numerous prestigious organisations counted Dr. P.Siva Reddy as either their Chairman or a member of their committees, including the International Council of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the APAO, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, the All India Ophthalmological Society, and the Andhra Pradesh State Ophthalmological Society. [Fig 7] Following Sri V. V. Giri’s presidency, Dr. Reddy became Honorary Surgeon to the President of India. From 1975 on, he served as the Honorary Advisor to the Government of Andhra Pradesh on Ophthalmology, a position in which he oversaw the implementation of the country’s National Programme for the Prevention of Visual Impairment and Control of Blindness.

Figure 7:
Dr. P. Siva Reddy with A. Edward Maumenee of Wilmer Eye Institute

In recognition of his monumental contributions, Dr. P. Siva Reddy was honored with innumerable awards, notable among those are as follows: The Adenwalla Oration Gold Medal by All India Ophthalmological Society in 1970 for his work on cryotherapy, a souvenir presented by the Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1982 on completion of 1 lakh cataract operations, International Agency for Prevention of Blindness, International Award for his services with eye camps, Dr. B.C. Roy National Award for socio-medical relief in 1981, Dr. Yellapragada Subbarow Gold Medal in 1994, Dr. B.C.Roy National Award in the category of Medical man-cum-statesman in 1987, the Padmashri in 1971, the Padmabhushan in 1977 [Fig. 8], and the Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi Puraskar in 1995 for his role in the growth of science and technology. The Government of Andhra Pradesh named the Regional Eye Hospital in Kurnool, ’Padmabhushan Dr. P. Siva Reddy Regional Eye Hospital’, to honor his legacy.

Figure 8:
Dr. P. Siva Reddy receiving the Padma Bhushan Award

Dr. Siva Reddy was passionate about education and was also the Chairman of Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. A demanding Professor, frequently scary, and dubbed a terror by some, he would not accept any laxity. But he was a fair examiner, appreciated sincerity and hard work, and gave due respect to all staff, “like a bird protecting her eggs.” He provided the first gas burner for the nurse’s hostel. His devotion to his work was unmatched. Once he was in the OT when a staff came and informed him, “Sir, the President of India, Sri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy is here to meet you.” “Please ask him to wait, I will finish the OT and come. There are old patients, hungry and have traveled from far, they should not be kept waiting. Such was the man, with defined priorities and strong principles. Regardless of his position or job obligations, he would be present for all invitations, whether it was the birthday celebration of a resident or the marriage of a staff’s daughter.

A test of a man’s character is always by the way that he treats his staff and juniors. The words used to describe the man include sincere, dedicated, devoted, hard-working, methodical, brilliant surgeon, great leader, and magnanimous. He has trained some prominent and exceptional surgeons and has left behind a legacy that will continue to inspire for generations to come.

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” - Khalil Gibran

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


This edition of ToY has been written with help, insights, and anecdotes from Dr. H. Siva Mohan Reddy, Dr. P Siva Reddy’s grandson, Dr. Vidyavathi Maheshwari, his disciple, and Sister Suryawathi, Dr. P Siva Reddy’s scrub nurse. Team ToY expresses heartfelt gratitude to them.


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