SAVING SIGHT WORLDWIDE
Boarding "the eye in the sky" to give the blind
the gift of sight
In the early 1990s, Dr. James Oestreicher joined Orbis, an international non-profit, humanitarian organization that works in developing countries to save the sight of the 180 million people worldwide who are blind, severely visually impaired, or at risk of becoming blind. Virtually 80 percent of these individuals can be cured, right now, with techniques routinely practiced in many countries.
View the slide show to see the many countries Dr. Oestreicher's has visited as an Orbis volunteer, including Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, China (twice), Vietnam (twice), Latvia, India, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Tanzania, Ghana, and Mongolia. His most recent trip occurred in August, 2013, when he visited Panama.
Care is provided via the world's only "flying eye hospital" – a specially equipped DC-10 aircraft (a new plane will go into service in 2014) that flies to developing countries, bringing practical, hands-on training to local eye doctors, nurses, technicians and health care workers and restoring sight to thousands.
The modified aircraft's facilities include an operating room, sub-sterile and scrub room, a classroom, audio-visual room, editing room, laser/examination room, conference room, recovery room and communication centre. The lower level of the plane houses a technical training and maintenance centre. The section of the plane that previously contained "Business Class" is now a classroom with live video to the operating room, where as many as 50 ophthalmologists can receive instruction and interact with the surgeon.
The plane carries a crew of 23 individuals – one anaesthetist, one anaesthetic nurse, five staff ophthalmologists, six nurses, two biomedical engineers, two flight mechanics, four administrative staff, and two audio-visual experts – from many different countries around the world.
All ORBIS clinical staff - anaesthetic, ophthalmic, biomedical and nursing - are involved in teaching their local counterparts, and sharing their knowledge and skills. This comes in the form of "hands-on" practical teaching on the plane and off the plane lectures. Interpreters are used where needed.
"What drew me was the idea of teaching and going someplace and making an impact," explains Dr. Oestreicher, who adds that his overseas experiences are "unlike any teaching he has done - or ever will do."
"One woman [in China] came to us with blindness that was caused by an industrial accident and never properly treated," he says. "Her eyelids had fused to her brow, but it wasn't too late to repair the damage."
When he describes patients suffering from medical neglect, such as the monk with a disfigured eye who trekked through the Burmese jungles to get to the Orbis site, Dr. Oestreicher shows compassion as well as hope. He knows he can't fix systemic health-care problems, but his work does leave behind a framework for a better future.
Another thing that keeps him going back is the interaction with local health-care teams. "They are very grateful, appreciative and always interested in learning." He still corresponds with doctors overseas. For example, a Chinese colleague, consulted with him about a child with a rare eye tumour. Dr Oestreicher had biopsied the tumor (behind the eye, in front of the brain) while in China. The standard treatment there was to remove the whole eye and tissue around it, a highly complex procedure that had a very low success rate and often resulted in death. Dr. Oestreicher sent medical literature on an alternative treatment (chemotherapy and radiation) that has a 90% success rate.
"Part of the reason I'm in this field is that it's very creative and every case is different," he says. "Orbis extends the range of work I do from cosmetic, to functional, to going to the Third World and really making a difference. That's what I need to have a feeling of balance between my professional life and personal life."
ORBIS, which has visited 85 countries, has offices in New York, Houston, London, Hong Kong, Toronto and New Delhi. It has acquired a new aircraft, an MD10, that represents the next generation of "flying hospitals" and will make its inaugural flight in 2013. The destination is Panama and Dr. Oestreicher will be part of the team that makes the trip.
"My eyes now have the very natural, almond shape that Iíve always dreamed about"
I just had eye surgery done by Dr. James H. Oestreicher, with excellent results. my eyes now have the very natural, almond shape that I've always dreamed about. Thanks a million Dr. Oestreicher and your whole excellent medical team!