Flying hospital helps bring sight to third world countries

The Flying Eye Hospital is based in Indianapolis.
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An Indianapolis airplane hangar plays a pivotal role in saving sight for people around the world. A converted DC-10 airplane serves as a flying hospital with significant Hoosier help.

"There is no other airplane in the world like the Orbis aircraft," said George Garcia, FedEx aircraft maintenance manager.

The Flying Eye Hospital is on one of its routine stops at the FedEx hangar in Indianapolis this week.

"Part of our relationship with Orbis is to load the equipment, make sure the airplane is operating properly so it doesn't break down anywhere on one of the missions," Garcia said.

FedEx also supplies volunteer pilots and mechanics that go on seven to eight 2-3 week missions a year.

Richard Jorgenson and John Mashino are both retired United mechanics in their late 60s who are with the plane 51 weeks a year. It's their second career and a journey that is seemingly a perfect fit for Jane Pauley's monthly TODAY series "Life Reimagined."

"My generation is the first to reach what we used to think of as retirement age. (It) used to be a door marked "exit" and now I describe it as a door that swings on a hinge, moving a person from something to something else," Pauley said. "Like these two guys. They were both retirees as they retired, now they are traveling around the world. So we don't have a word for retirement for what it is going to be for my generation and all the generations to come."

In this case, the second career make is possible for Orbis to bring care and medical training to prevent blindness in developing countries.

"China, India, Bangladesh, all across Africa, Cameroon, Zambia, Ethiopia," said Flavia Draganus, Orbis International.

Orbis predicts 90 percent of blindness occurs in the developing world. Eighty percent can be prevented, but training is needed.

"For example, if you take a country, Zambia, and 18 million people, there are 13 ophthalmologists in the whole country and most of them are concentrated in the big cities," Draganus said.

That's why the classroom on the plane, over time, may actually impact more patients than the operating and recovery room.

Pauley will head to a remote location to see the crew in action later this year. Meantime, FedEx workers here know they have a vital role in saving sight worldwide.

Another local connection to the effort, Indianapolis-based Bosma Enterprises provides all the medical equipment and supplies and they restock the Flying Eye Hospital when it is in Indianapolis for maintenance.

Pauley's story should air in December.