The lady in white, from the city of oranges – Sudha Sutaria : Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

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Women in Ophthalmology

The lady in white, from the city of oranges – Sudha Sutaria

Bansal, Rolika; Pangarkar, Anand1; Agnihotri, Prashant2; Spivey, Bruce E3; Honavar, Santosh G

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Indian Journal of Ophthalmology 71(1):p 8-9, January 2023. | DOI: 10.4103/IJO.IJO_3197_22
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“The magic lies within, and if you find the initial spark, spread it like fire to all those around you.” – Anonymous

Dr. Sudha Sutaria [Fig. 1] was indeed that initial spark that lit up a fire across the nation and changed the face of women in ophthalmology in India by her persistence, ambition, perfectionism, and devotion. She was the woman ophthalmologist of Indian origin who led the Pied-Piper effect with her charisma and ability to inspire. Her pleasant demeanor and radiant personality were the reasons for her popularity among her peers, patients, and students.

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Figure 1:
Dr. Sudha Sutaria (Courtesy - Dr Gopal Arora)

Born as Sudha Modi in an illustrious family in Mumbai (the then Bombay of India), with her mother as the first lady Mayor of the city, she had high ideals and a beacon to follow. Her upbringing was indeed in an affluent and prosperous family; however, her roots were forever grounded with a low-key and humble nature. Her sister was a lawyer in the Mumbai High Court and brother was an orthopedic surgeon. Responding to her passion for medicine, she joined the prestigious Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College (GSMC) and the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, at Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, and completed her post-graduation in ophthalmology from the same institute, turning out to be one of the early women eye surgeons in India.

«One of the reasons for my choosing ophthalmology as my career was my maternal grandfather. When he was operated for cataract, and lay in the hospital bed with two sandbags on either side of his head to prevent movement, and was in much discomfort, I decide that one day I›ll do something for patients like him.” – Sudha Sutaria[1]

Her training in ophthalmology was under the stalwarts like Dr. S. N. Cooper,[2] Dr. B. T. Maskati, and Dr. T. N. Ursekar in Mumbai. She not only revered their efforts in teaching her, but also passed on the knowledge to a set of students who were in awe of her teaching skills and were highly inspired by her aura.

Her marriage with Mr. Naresh Sutaria, hailing from a wealthy business family of Nagpur, opened up a new chapter of her life and brought her to Nagpur, Maharashtra, India, in 1952, where her legendary journey continued. Mr. Naresh Sutaria played a very important role in her life as a pillar of strength, which she considered as one of the greatest assets of her career and life.[2]

Dr. Sudha Sutaria was appointed as an honorary assistant professor and rose to the post of honorary professor in ophthalmology at the Indira Gandhi Medical College, where she served for 32 years and was instrumental in teaching and building the department. Her passion for ophthalmology made her travel around the world, notably to Geneva, Vienna, Tokyo, and so on, to learn new skills for the benefit of her patients back home. She started her private practice thereafter till the year 2000.

Dr. Sutaria was a pioneer in the ground-breaking scleral buckling surgery and was one of the first to practice it in Central India. Her impeccable training by her mentors and her desire to explore were reasons for her to play an integral role in laying down the protocols for management of various retinal diseases.

In the 1970s, she taught her students the importance of retinal visualization (with her own indirect ophthalmoscope)[3] and advocated the importance of clear retinal documentation by hand-drawn color-coded diagrams. She also adopted micro-surgery and intraocular lens implantation in the 1980s. She even practiced photocoagulation by xenon arc in rabbits and had the first xenon arc photocoagulator, of Nagpur, installed at her clinic. Her excitement and commitment toward new technologies showed her craving to grow and progress. To cater to the needs of the patients from the less-privileged strata, she also carried out several mass cataract surgery camps.

Her oratorical skills were excellent, and coupled with her optimistic personality, pleasant manners, and dedication, she achieved everything she chose to pursue. Responsibilities and high offices came naturally to her [Fig. 2], and in her youth, she became the president of Jaycees (an international organization of the young).

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Figure 2:
A group photograph of the Retinal Detachment Symposium held in July 1976 at M and J Institute of Ophthalmology, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Dr. Sudha Sutaria stood out with her grace as the only woman among the stalwarts. From left to right – sitting: Drs P. K. Khosala, T. N. Ursekar, R. N. Mathur, P. N. Nagpal, D. G. Mody, O. P. Gupta, Sudha Sutaria, P. Namperumalswamy, A. C. Shroff; standing: Drs B. T. Maskati, S. S. Badrinath, A. K. Paul, A. K. Bavishi, A. S. Divatia, B. Patnaik, Haricharan, K. Murthy. (Courtesy – Drs P. N. Nagpal and Manish Nagpal)

Dr. Sutaria played a very prominent role in the All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS). She was a member of the Election Commission along with Dr. Vasundhara Kalevar for 6 years. In 1973, she was the organizing secretary of the AIOS in Nagpur, which was the first all India conference being held at Nagpur from a medical field.[4] At this conference, she initiated “the much respected and looked forward to component” of the AIOS conferences – ”the live surgeries.” She conducted surgical projections for the delegates to provide a broader horizon and for different surgical techniques to be displayed. It started with participation by surgeons like Dr. Harminder Dua and Dr. Vasundhara Kalevar as well. Till date, these sessions witness a hall full of enthusiastic delegates yearning to learn from each other. She also held the prestigious position of president of the AIOS in 1991. In her presidential address, she very humbly clarified the misconception and highlighted the role of Dr. Miss A. B. Laker from Ludhiana as the first ever female president.[2] This reflects mutual respect and courtesy among the female ophthalmologists.

In the presidential address, she also mentioned – ”Who would have thought one could swim in the vitreous, wave the magic wand of an endolaser, change parts in the eye like in a motor car and bring once again to the glory of seeing and living, those in the abyss of darkness?” This not only shows her eagerness to explore new horizons, but also to engage the youth in research and modern surgery.

Dr. Sutaria was the founding member of the Vidarbha Ophthalmic society (VOS) in 1974, along with Dr. S. U. Joshi, Dr. Ishwarchandra, Dr. O. L. Rathi, and Dr. A. V. Madangopal.[4] However, their efforts for the society dated back to 1958, when they started having regular meetings for the development of ophthalmology in Nagpur.[4] During her tenure as the president of VOS, she led the society with Dr. Harminder Dua as her secretary.

In 1995, the first mid-year meeting of the Vitreo-Retina Society of India (VRSI) was held in Nagpur under the aegis of VOS, and in her honor, the vitreo-retinal oration award was renamed as the “Dr. Sudha Sutaria Oration.”[3] She also served as the president of the Nagpur wing of the Indian Medical Association.

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Sutaria met with an unfortunate car accident, which put a short pause to her career. But she fought back and recovered from her injuries with the help of her kind friends and family. Her students stood by her side and played an extremely important role in bringing her back in shape. She took her wings to be in another world on January 28, 2017.

Fondly remembered as “lady in white,”Dr. Sudha Sutaria [Fig. 2] was always the life of a party, a generous host, and the epicenter of every conference, and heads turned whenever she entered the room due to her radiant aura and grace. She was multidimensional and along with being a surgeon par excellence, she enjoyed playing golf and dancing as well. A teacher of exceptional caliber, she had a trailblazing career, during which she rode like a colossus, led by example, and became a living icon for many.

Come together, pool yourselves and your resources, pool your knowledge and enthusiasm and travel on this modern and exciting path in unison. Together, you can have it all.” – Sudha Sutaria

References

1. Academy Of Medical Science Available from:https://www.academynagpur.com/about-a-m-s/ [Last accessed on 2022 Dec 04].
2. Sutaria S Presidential address. Indian J Ophthalmol 1991; 39:42.
3. Awards &Orations –Vos Available from:https://voseye.org/awards-orations-2/ [Last accessed on 2022 Dec 04].
4. Vos –Vidarbha Ophthalmic Society Available from:https://voseye.org/ [Last accessed on 2022 Dec 04].
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