He wanted to rid the world of blindness.
Orbis International, a charity organisation based in New York, was started by American Dr David Patton in 1924, when he realised that 80 per cent of the cases of blindness throughout the world was preventable and people could not come to the US to get treated.
“He decided to take the hospital to them,” Jay Bourgeois, the director of the hospital told Gulf News.
The refurbished Boeing MD-10 freighter, which is on display at the Dubai Airshow, is the third plane being operated by Orbis and over the years the organisation has covered 92 countries.
“We travel to countries throughout the world and spend on an average four weeks training hospital staff, advocating health systems, strengthening local facilities and performing surgery,” Bourgeois said.
Cynthia Berwyn has been a pilot for the past 45 years and volunteers two weeks of her vacation time to fly for Orbis. Speaking to Gulf News while showing visitors around the airplane’s facilities, she said: “It’s an honour for me to volunteer to fly the airplane. I might not have the money that some people have and can’t give away millions, but I have the skills, so this is my way to give back to humanity and help people.”
However, travelling into local communities and providing the best training for all kinds of ophthalmic issues can be a challenge, especially with the lack of resources.
Monelle Ross, a staff nurse at the hospital, said: “The challenge is to look at what resources are available and how we can work with them. We don’t want to create far-fetched solutions for these communities, but to make it feasible and sustainable.”
However, the impact of the flying eye hospital on local communities is what encourages all the volunteers to continue. Last year, Orbis helped doctors complete 1,961 training courses, conduct 3.53 million eye screenings and exams, and performing 83,176 surgeries.
The current freighter on display just completed a month-long programme in Cameroon, and will leave for Bangladesh on Thursday.
“After a surgery, when you ask a patient who was blind for years, ‘Can you see me?’ and they say, ‘Yes’, that’s a wonderful feeling and that’s why we do what we do,” Ross said.