I have been carrying his story on my head for close to five years now, waiting for the right time to write it, but each time I keep procrastinating. But with his 70th birthday on January 26, this year, I am compelled to write it, belated as it may be.
This is the story of Dr. Kunle Hassan, the founder of Eye Foundation Hospital, a visionary in the real sense, a medical doctor whose mission is to ensure that millions of Nigerians do not lose their vision through preventable blindness. It is the story of a world-class ophthalmic surgeon with wide experience in the fields of Vitreo-Retina, Surgery, Glaucoma, Anterior Segment, Cataract and Ocular Plastic Surgery. The story of a silent achiever and philanthropist who should be given a National Merit Award for his contribution to saving his countrymen from being kidnapped by Mr. Glaucoma, the “Silent Thief” that creeps in little by little until you start bumping on walls, until total darkness that is irreversible sets in. May it not be our portion!
Dr. Hassan, a medical graduate from my alma mater, the University of Lagos, went abroad to specialize in ophthalmology and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeon, Glasgow, UK, Royal College of Ophthalmology, UK and West African College of Surgeons. He was further trained in the prestigious Tenneth Institute of Ophthalmology, Western Infirmary-Glasgow, Scotland, under the tutelage of Professor Wallace Foulds.
After a stint working in the UK, he travelled to the Saudi Arabia to work “just to make money” as he told me. I was interviewing him for one of our books titled: 50 NIGERIA’S BUSINESS FOUNDERS—a book that would soon come out, coauthored with my friend and “twin” brother Dimgba Igwe of blessed memory.
While working in Saudi Arabia, his mind was on his vision: the vision to establish an eye hospital of international standard on his return to his country, Nigeria. He tells his story:
“I worked in Saudi Arabia just to make money. And then I got all my equipment and came back to this country without a car. There was a time I was driving ambulance. I used all my money to buy equipment. I came back in 1993 and started off on 22 Ribadu Road where a friend of mine had a medical centre and he gave me a room.
“It was challenging. But along the line, you discover there are a lot of patients who cannot afford the hi-tech service and all those things. So I decided that the best thing is to call some of my patients, Alhaji Okunnu and some others and we formed a board of trustees so that we can also do charity for those who cannot afford. And that is how we started the Eye Foundation.
“And from there we moved to Isaac John Street in Ikeja. I saw the limitation in terms of the volume of eye diseases available and the level of practice. I tried to get some of my colleagues ophthalmologists to join me in a group practice but they didn’t want that. So I thought the best thing was to start training. We wanted to deal with LUTH so that we can go and train resident doctors but they didn’t want that. So I started on my own.
“I did an interview for about 60 young doctors, we took eight of them. And I created international faculty involving my colleagues in America and the UK. So they will come in here to train our first residents. And the Nigerian institutions were waiting for us where they would do their exams. But we were credited at the Royal College of Surgeons. I am a fellow of that college. So I train my residents for four years and they go overseas for six months where I was trained. And they did the fellowship and they passed. The first three came back. Dr. Okonkwo was one of our first residents and Dr. Oderinlo. They are two of our consultants here. Then we did the graduation of fellows in 2005.
“Then people were asking: Why don’t you accredit Eye Foundation with Royal College of Surgeons? Luckily for us, we were accredited by the West Africa College. And then the Nigerian College accredited us. So we now have our fellows, our residents doing those colleges and international exams. So today, we have 25 doctors. We have about 13 consultants. Two of them have just passed. So we have 15 consultants now. And ten residents. So we are a big training institution. Our biggest hospital is in Ijebu-Mushin. It is on two and half acres of land and has about a 100 beds. That’s where they are doing the MTN programme for Ogun State.”
As I said, I did this interview about five years ago and the hospital has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Today it has many branches in Lagos and in Abuja. I love the story of a man who keeps a low profile, who initially opted to ride an ambulance as official car then, even though some people saw it as the manifestation of his “Ijebu” blood but he never mind. Today, he is the one laughing last.
In his hospital, he provides state-of-the art equipment and balances the need to cater for the rich and the poor alike, using the air transport model of first class, business class and economy class. If you can’t afford first class or business class, you go for economy. At Eye Foundation, there is the “Purple” club where business-class executives pay for additional comfort and speed—a model which Dr. Hassan defends.
As one of the patients to Dr. Adunola Ogunro, a leading world renowned glaucoma specialist trained by Dr. Hassan, I have attended a few of the hospital’s interactive programme where patients are brought in to listen to doctors. As one doctor told me during one programme for the Glaucoma Week: “Gone are the days when the doctor was the one that knows everything and whatever the doctor says is what the patient is expected to accept. Over time, it was discovered that to have a successful management of patient, the patient must be involved. How will the patient be involved if you don’t invite the patient? The patient also has to know about his condition. And that is why the hospital tries to do this interactive programme of bringing together patients to listen to doctors.”
This is wishing Dr. Adekunle Hassan and his team at Eye Foundation more years of service to humanity through helping to arrest all kinds of eye diseases, including glaucoma, the Silent Thief which slowly steals the sight, causing irreparable harm in the end. It’s high time Nigerians took seriously the awareness campaign against this dangerous kidnapper that attacks the optic nerve and causes gradual vision loss. A stich in time, they say, saves nine.