Orbis: A Medical and Aviation Marvel

December 2016

Sangeeta visited the Flying Eye Hospital when it was open for tours earlier this month. Here, she shares about her experience on board the plane and her feelings about the tour.

Back in 1982, I remember hearing about a “Flying Eye Hospital” in the news. As a kid with a vivid imagination, this sounded fantastical like…a magic carpet!

Quantum leap to December 2016 and “the magic carpet” is a new airliner equipped to the hilt with marvels of modern medicine and advanced technology!  The MD-10-30F plane is donated by FedEx. Many other donors and supporters contributed to its conversion from a cargo plane to Orbis’s third-generation Flying Eye Hospital.

Over the weekend, I took a tour with my niece of this flying medical marvel. It stopped over at Singapore for maintenance and is gearing up for its next mission to train doctors, nurses, biomedical engineers and technicians in the developing world! It is a noble goal especially since 80% of visual impairment is not only avoidable but curable so, I hope it inspires my niece (and the next generation) to find ways to help as she pursues medical science at University.   

The plane was parked on the tarmac of a secured military airbase and a bus load of us approached it. Escorted by Orbis volunteers on board, we were warmly greeted by the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital Staff, professional medical personnel such as doctors, nurses and technicians.

The plane’s interior is clearly divided into three distinct sections - a teaching area, a treatment area and a patient prep & recovery area.

It’s an impressive set up as the teams are able to do the following on the plane:

  1.  Teach local doctors via live cameras, including a new 3-D one. Volunteer doctors explain the procedures while trainees ask questions in real-time.
  2. Conduct eye operations (both laser and surgery) for the poor and needy. Each case is assessed onboard to make sure that they are viable candidates and suitable teaching cases.  For example, the health of children as young as two years old has to be determined before treatment and/or surgery.
  3. Monitor patients pre- and post- operation to ensure treatment is carried out thoroughly for the local doctors to take over. 

Already impressive by any measure, this is surpassed by the fact that Orbis is very heavily supported by volunteers from a pool of 17 FedEx pilots who fly the plane on their own time to the 400+ specialist doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers who lend their medical expertise to train local doctors.

Personally, I believe Orbis represents the spirit, determination and tenacity of like-minded individuals who genuinely want to make a difference… and who really do! 

Sangeeta