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Dr Jay Chandra is recognised for his significant services in the field of opthalmology
Early on the morning of 26 January this year, as the nation was reading through the list of the Australia Day awardees for the year, Dr Jay Chandra was doing what he loves best – fixing someone’s eyes.
He had been called in to work at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital to deal with an emergency case.
It was midday as he walked out of the operating theatre and checked his phone, only to read many messages of congratulations from family, friends and colleagues.
“It’s a significant honour conferred upon me, and I’m grateful,” Dr Chandra told Indian Link.
His honour came for significant service to medicine in the field of ophthalmology as a clinician, and to the international community through eye care programs.
Dr Chandra came to this country in 1964 when his family migrated here, but went back to India to go to medical school. In 1970, he undertook ophthalmology training in Australia, and went on to specialise in vitreoretinal procedures here and in the US.
He worked at Westmead Hospital where he established, in 1985, a vitreoretinal surgical unit, and a fellowship training program.
He also worked at the Nepean Hospital until 2011, and in private practice which he set up in Penrith in 1980.
He continues to work at Westmead Hospital to this day, leading the hospital to become the second centre, only after the Sydney Eye Hospital, which provides these specialised services.
“Only recently in 2013, I was happy to be able to re-equip the unit with state-of-the-art technology,” Dr Chandra said. “This came about after some struggle, thanks to budgetary constraints, but Jillian Skinner, NSW Minister for Health and Dr Geoff Lee, Member for Parramatta, were invaluable in their support.”
Throughout his career, Dr Chandra has kept his eyes open for opportunities where he can use his special skills for improving the lives of others.
Back in 2002, Dr Chandra spoke to Indian Link about his charitable work in India. At free eye camps organised in the holy city of Rishikesh, Dr Chandra led a group of doctors and technicians in cataract surgery for people who could not otherwise afford the treatment. The initiative was supported by Vision Beyond AUS (Fiducian Group Limited and Rotary Club of Sydney).
In 2006, his team conducted a similar program in Fiji, working at the Lautoka Hospital. This became an annual program known as the Fiji Eye Care Program and has received support from the St Clair Uniting Church in Australia and the Methodist Church Fiji. The region is home to many underprivileged people, many of them of Indian origin.
Some thousand people so far have had their eyesight restored by Dr Chandra’s team.
“This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Fiji program,” Dr Chandra remarked. “Through the years, we’ve also donated much equipment to the hospital, such as microscopes and examination gear.”
It comes as no surprise that Dr Chandra’s life and career have been greatly inspired by the legendary Fred Hollows, a dearly loved son of Australia and visionary ophthalmologist.
“I am indebted to Fred,” Dr Chandra revealed. “He gave me my first training position at the Prince of Wales Hospital.”
Working under the man got him hooked on the idea of taking his expertise straight to the most needy in the community.
“I drove with Fred to Burke on many an occasion, to work at his camps for Indigenous patients. He was a generous, charitable person, not interested in material gains for himself.”
Dr Chandra is supported by his wife Shailaja Chaturvedi in his charitable endeavours. As a clinical psychologist, as an executive officer at the Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association (AIMGA) and as a Hindi poet, Dr Chaturvedi is well-known in Sydney’s Indian community herself.
“I’m no culture-vulture like my wife,” Dr Chandra admitted. “I’m a mechanical-minded person, and so her backing has been matchless.”
“My only regret is my mum is not here to share this most recent award with me,” Dr Chandra said, wistfully. “My brother and sister both said the same to me, that Mum would have been so proud.”
Meanwhile, Dr Chandra’s charitable work continues. A new passion he is about to embark upon with his wife Shailaja: establishing a retinal surgery unit at Sitapur Eye Hospital in northern India.