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Eye Doctors Transform Donated Jumbo Jet Into 'Orbis' The World's First Flying Eye Hospital

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- What do you get when you combine a huge jumbo jet with a state of the art operating room and classroom? The world's first flying eye hospital.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez went aboard 'Orbis' as it prepared for its next mission to cure avoidable blindness in developing countries.

It could be an operating room in any modern American hospital, and in fact it has the most advanced technology available. But this operating room isn't in a hospital, it's on an airplane -- a converted MD-10 jumbo jet donated from the FedEx cargo fleet.

It's really much more than a flying operating room. It's a teaching hospital that travels to developing countries to perform eye surgery, and training.

"Training of local doctors, local nurses, local bio-medical engineers, and the whole I-Care team," Joni Watson explained, "It's not just about doctors. If nurses aren't trained, if we can't do infection control, all of those kinds of things."

In other words, Orbis aims to develop a sustainable eye-care program in developing countries. An advance team may spend as long as a year prior to the arrival of the flying eye hospital to assess a site's needs, capacities, and facilities.

Then, during a several week stay on the ground, doctors perform and observe eye surgery on a 3-D screen in the plane's classroom.

Dr. Rudy Wagner, Professor of Ophthalmology at Rutgers N.J. Medical School is one of 400 volunteer medical faculty for Orbis.

"When you train these individual doctors, you make the rest of the country aware that this is going on, and this then leads to more exposure for eye-care issues in the country, and then goes on to really overall help to improve the eye care in the country," Dr. Wagner said.

There are also diagnostic machines, lasers for treatment, and even a simulator to teach cataract surgery, plus a special recovery area for kids.

"We do find, when there's a language barrier, and a cultural barrier, it's found that teddy bears do seem to transport you from country to country," Joni Watson said.

From the FedEx plane and volunteer pilots and faculty to eye care companies donating equipment Orbis is done without government funds and is supported completely by private philanthropy.

The flying eye hospital is open to the public for tours on Saturday at Newark Airport from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  The cost is $25 for adults and admission is free for children ages 6 to 12, who come accompanied by a parent or guardian. A government issued ID is required, you can register for a tour here.


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