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Eye hospital no pie in the sky

A mobile teaching hospital is giving the gift of sight.

Heather Machin never knows what her day will bring, but that’s to be expected when you work in a flying hospital and help treat blind patients all over the world.

The 31-year-old is director of nursing for the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, which brings together dedicated eye care professionals and aviators to give the gift of sight to developing countries around the world.

Onboard the refurbished DC-10 jet aircraft, local doctors, nurses and technicians from developing countries work alongside ORBIS’s international medical team to exchange knowledge and improve their skills. The mobile teaching hospital is a unique tool in the fight against preventable blindness in these countries.

Machin says her job is not only interesting and rewarding, but different every single day.

“It’s an incredibly diverse role and on any given day I can be working on accreditation and policy development, as a nurse, flight attendant, or even loading cargo,” she says.

In the 48-seat classroom at the front of the plane, doctors give lectures, discussions and live broadcasts of surgical procedures being performed nearby in the Flying Eye Hospital operating room.

The local trainees can observe the surgeries and ask questions of the operating surgeons via a two-way audio-visual system.

In the 18 months since she got the job, Heather has been to India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Dubai, Oman, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“I particularly love returning to places I have worked before and seeing how the skills we helped them develop have made such a big difference to their practice,” she says.

“The people we train are so eager to learn and improve their skills, so that they in turn can help the people of their country.”

Since its first program in 1982, the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital has travelled to more than 70 countries and saved the sight of millions of people.

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