Many people consider a visit to the eye-doctor a necessary chore. But for the 253 million people around the world who are blind or visually impaired, a single visit to an ophthalmologist can mean a second chance at life.
That’s where The Flying Eye Hospital Comes in. The MD-10 is the only fully equipped and accredited teaching hospital on a plane in the world.
It is part operating room, part classroom, and part eye health advocate. The plane travels around the world to low-income locations, bringing world-class training to local doctors and performing eye exams and surgeries on those in need.
“There are few things in life better than seeing somebody be able to see who hasn’t been able to for awhile or never has, to see a mothers face light up when she sees her husband or her children. You can’t put it in words,” said Orbis CEO Bob Ranck.
Hre’s what’s it like aboard the plane.
Orbis works with a network of over 400 volunteers in 30 countries. All are full-time medical professionals, and spend their vacation going on trips with the Flying Eye.
Antonio Jaramillo is a doctor from Columbia who has been working with Orbis for the past three years.
“Working with local doctors who are so interested in what they are learning, you see you are making a difference, because you know they are going to be continuing on when you’re gone,” he said.
The plane’s operating facilities and medical instruments are designed as movable modules, and are shipped from location to location.
Orbis team members make trips to destinations a year before the plane plans to land there.
They visit the local hospital to make an assessment of the facilities, and find out what the area’s needs are.
Local doctors select patients who are in need of treatment. All services are free, and anyone is welcome, but Jaramillo said the team focuses on those who are already blind and have no other means of getting help.
Cataracts and refractive error are the leading causes of blindness around the world, and are two of the main issues the team works to correct.
On a trip to Cameroon, the Orbis team met Joyce Sirri Afani. She went blind from cataracts when she was 12, and was forced to drop out of school around the same time.
After being prescribed eye drops and medications that worsened her condition, Afani’s family was asked if they would register her for an upcoming Orbis visit.
She was operated on by Dr. Fiona Dean, a volunteer from the United Kingdom while the plane was in Yaounde, Cameroon.
In six months, an Orbis team will make a return visit to Cameroon to check on Joyce and other patients that underwent treatment.
The plane also has a 46-seat classroom, where local medical professionals can observe live surgeries and ask the operating doctors questions.
So far, 1,414 doctors have completed training courses and 28, 912 nurses, biomedical engineers, and other community volunteers have been trained aboard the plane.
In every country it visits, Orbis works with local officials to advocate for solutions to blindness, and help them understand that keeping blindness at bay is essential for expanding the economy and fighting poverty.
Next up for The Flying Eye is an onboard simulation facility, where local doctors can get hands-on training with visiting doctors.