The person who first realized Pillai's blindness might be treatable was a medical student at the University of Michigan. For the last eight months, Pillai and four other residents of the Sri Lankan facility have received group medical consultations from five U-M medical students via Skype.
Naresh Gunaratnam, a gastroenterologist in Ann Arbor who was born in Sri Lanka, has worked with Grace since 2002, when the nonprofit was founded to house children and senior citizens affected by the civil war there.
For nearly a decade, Gunaratnam saw patients at Grace succumbing to illness for lack of medical intervention.
"It was very random and very reactive," he says. "We didn't have a systematic health care protocol. If [residents] got sick, we'd take them to the hospital. But there was no preventative care, there was no primary care."
Last October, using Skype and the electronic health record system Enki, he began connecting the Grace residents with medical students here for a pilot program in weekly primary care.