Inside the Orbis Eye Hospital Flying Around the World in an MD-10

Nov 14, 2017

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In today’s second installment of “whoa, that’s some really cool stuff they put in that plane!” we’re taking a look at Orbis, the eye hospital on wheels (and wings!) charged with bringing world-class surgeons to developing countries around the world.

The Orbis team focuses on countries that are in desperate need of improved eye healthcare. Most recently the team traveled to Yaoundé in Cameroon — in those seats below — before heading to Dubai for an appearance at the Dubai Air Show. On average, the crew is away from home a whopping 42 weeks out of the year — these are some dedicated professionals!

The team flies around in a heavily modified MD-10, with registration N330AU. The plane was originally an airliner when it was delivered back in 1973, and was eventually converted to a freighter for FedEx, which ultimately donated the plane to Orbis. Then, in 2016, it began as the third Flying Eye Hospital to date.

There are 46 economy seats, all with decent padding and legroom, used by the doctors, nurses and other staff traveling from one location to the next. This space also doubles as a classroom, where students can learn various techniques while the plane is on the ground.

So there’s that main seating area just behind the cockpit, followed by a series of rooms.

The first main room is used for ophthalmologists to observe surgeries and surgical procedures. Orbis’ mission is to train physicians to perform the surgeries themselves — Orbis has visited 92 countries so far, and the team spends between two and three weeks on the ground at each location. More than 40,000 doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals completed Orbis trainings in 2016 alone.

Since this is a teaching hospital, students can observe surgeries being performed in the next room. There are also cameras mounted throughout the plane, which stream video to a dedicated website, allowing physicians — and anyone, really — around the world to watch surgeries and ask questions in realtime.

Meanwhile, the operating room is located just down the hall, cleverly positioned over the wings to minimize turbulence during flight.

Surgeries are only performed on the ground, of course, but the position over the wings helps to minimize the risk of damage to the plane’s most essential surgical equipment.

The operating room is state of the art, with all of the necessary equipment, such as this anesthesia machine.

There are cameras mounted everywhere, from the classroom to the operating room to the recovery area at the rear of the plane.

The recovery room is located aft of the OR, and includes two beds with monitoring equipment.

While the majority of patients are adults, Orbis operated on nearly 100,000 children between 2012 and 2016. Nurses even add eye patches to the Orbis bears they give to their youngest patients, to make the children feel more comfortable during their recovery.

According to Orbis, more than 250,000,000 people are currently visually impaired, and 36 million are blind worldwide. That number is expected to triple by 2050, so there’s clearly an urgent need for qualified eye care professionals around the world.

You can help the cause by making a donation, either as an individual or company. The latest Orbis plane was donated by FedEx, but various other global organizations have made sizable gifts as well, including Omega, Pfizer and Standard Chartered. Head to Orbis’ site for more information, or to make a donation of your own.

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