Heroes of Orbis: Dr. Mary O'Hara M.D.

Dr. Mary O’Hara is a pediatric ophthalmologist specializing in strabismus at Davis, University of California, in Sacramento and a long-serving member of our Volunteer Faculty - our team of world leading experts who give up their free time to share their amazing skills.

Since her first program in Wuhan, China, in 2007 Dr. O’Hara has joined us on our Flying Eye Hospital four times to share her surgical skills with eye teams from all corners of the globe as well as virtually through our telemedicine platform Cybersight.

During a project in Vietnam in 2015, she appeared on PBS News Hour speaking about her experience imparting her superior specialist eye care skills with local doctors and treating strabismus cases.

PBS News Hour follows Dr. Mary O'Hara on our Mongolia project

Skills & Expertise

Dr. O’Hara graduated from Uniformed Services University Of The Health Sciences with her medical degree in 1981, completing her residency training at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas and her fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia.

It was during her fellowship that she heard about Orbis. Her mentor Dr. Joseph Calhoun, was a volunteer too and he went on several trips during the year that she was in fellowship. At the end of the year he told her, “I want you to be part of this too, this is important work and you need to be part of this."

Years later, Dr. O’Hara’s own daughter was also inspired to become a pediatric ophthalmologist after coming along with her on her inaugural mission with Orbis in Wuhan, China. She told her college-aged daughter, who was considering a career in medicine: “You have to see this organization and how they do things because they do it right. They respect the patients, they treat them at the same level that that patient would be treated in the United States, and they teach people to fish. So she came on that trip and then decided to go into medicine, and she’s actually now a pediatric ophthalmologist. So we blame Orbis. ”


  • General Ophthalmology
  • Strabismus

Teacher & Trainer

After previous trips fighting blindness in China and Vietnam, we connected with Dr. O'Hara in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to discover more about this superhero.

As a trainer she is able to share her classroom with trainees not just in-country but also around the world via our award-winning telemedicine platform Cybersight, which she credits for enhancing both educational and surgical experiences.

She told us:“It's a huge expansion of your audience. Live streaming is different than watching a canned video, because you can participate in the experience. You can ask a question; you can be in Egypt and ask a question to the doctor who is in Mongolia.”

She also explained what blindness means to her and the impact it has on a human being.

Eyesight is the most important of the senses. It is the dominant sense with which we interact with the world. So when you lose that sense, you're really losing a lot of information, a lot of personal interaction with individuals, which is so important. We're social beings. We look into each other's eyes and we see each other, not only by sight by just looking at each other, but we see each other with body language, we understand each other by gestures. And when you take that away, you're really isolating somebody in the world.

“Blindness goes beyond things like just seeing. If you're blind, you don't see light and dark, you don't know when it's day or night. Your body doesn't know when to go to sleep. It doesn't know when to wake up. So you are really deregulated in a lot of ways.

As a specialist in strabismus, she enjoys treating children and improving their vision. “It’s always wonderful to deal with children. They are our future, as the cliché goes. But as a surgeon, when you're dealing with children, when you're solving their vision problems, you're potentially solving problems for 70 years. An adult may have 10, 20, 30 years left, but a child has a good 70 or more years on this earth. And if you're able to make that time a little bit better by improving their sight, improving their function, then it's a big win.

Without generous, kind and skilled people like Dr O’Hara we would not be able to fight blindness in communities around the world. Thank you for all the admirable work you do and for being a big part of our Orbis family.

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