St. Johnsbury, Vermont – August 30, 2011 – ORBIS International brings the world’s only Flying Eye Hospital—literally a fully functioning, state-of-the-art surgical and training facility housed inside of a DC-10 aircraft— to the Heritage Aviation facility at Burlington International Airport today. The Flying Eye Hospital arrives as part of a Goodwill Tour to raise awareness of blindness in the developing world. ORBIS is a non-profit organization that trains doctors to treat conditions and diseases that lead to blindness in countries where medical knowledge and resources are lacking. During the visit, which continues through Wednesday, the public has the opportunity to tour the aircraft, meet the volunteer pilots, crews and doctors and converse with the team who works aboard the aircraft.
According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 39 million blind people in the world – of which 90% live in the developing world. Globally, 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured if there was equal access to high-quality eye care. ORBIS International prevents and treats blindness by providing quality eye care to transform lives. The organization supplies the tools, training and technology necessary for local partners in developing countries to establish their own capacity to offer quality eye care services that are affordable, accessible and sustainable. Since 1982, ORBIS has carried out more than 1,000 programs in 88 countries, enhanced the skills of more than 290,000 eye care professionals and provided treatment to more than 15 million blind and visually impaired people.
The Flying Eye Hospital visit is arranged in conjunction with Mobile Medical International Corporation (MMIC), a St. Johnsbury-based company that was awarded a multi-year contract by ORBIS in December 2010 to design and manufacture the next-generation Flying Eye Hospital. The ORBIS International Flying Eye Hospital visit was also coordinated by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce’s Aerospace and Aviation Association (VAAA), in conjunction with VAAA’s quarterly meeting. VAAA Honorary Chair, United States Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and VAAA Chair, Brian Dubie, will be special guests visiting the Flying Eye Hospital.
The differences between the current Flying Eye Hospital, a DC-10 aircraft, and the next-generation, an MD-10 aircraft, are monumental: the MD-10 only requires two pilots as opposed to the current three, the aircraft’s range will expand from 4,000 miles to 6,000 miles and will allow the ability to more efficiently customize the hospital configuration. Jack McHale, Director of ORBIS’s MD-10 project, said, “While the Flying Eye Hospital is a unique technological and engineering marvel, the real miracle is that it helps change the lives of those who thought they would never be able to see again, who have lived for years without the gift of sight. We are thrilled to be working with MMIC to continue this vital mission.”
Among the volunteers who work with ORBIS is Rosalind A. Stevens, MD, MPH, of Norwich, Vermont, an ophthalmological retinal surgeon who served as ORBIS's medical director and has been on nearly 30 missions with ORBIS. Dr. Stevens, Professor of Surgery (Ophthalmology), Dartmouth Medical School; and Chief of Ophthalmology emeritus, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, commented, "It is wonderful to have the Flying Eye Hospital in my home state of Vermont. For two decades the Flying Eye Hospital has been my second home. When I arrive in a country where ORBIS is training doctors, and I see the Flying Eye Hospital waiting on the tarmac, I am filled with pride for the ORBIS team and its trainees. I know that the new Flying Eye Hospital will continue to be a special place for those who have the privilege to do this work."
ORBIS International is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that works in developing countries to save sight worldwide. ORBIS prevents and treats blindness through hands-on training, public health education, improved access to quality eye care, and partnering with local health care organizations in an effort to eliminate avoidable blindness. For more information on ORBIS, please visit www.ORBIS.org.