It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a hospital! 

By Jordi Lippe and Jordi Lippe-McGraw
Updated: January 21, 2017
Paul McKelvey / Orbis

Walking into a hospital, you typically know what to expect: a waiting room, doctors bustling around and sick people. But, what about when that hospital is on a plane? The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital is the world’s only fully U.S. accredited eye hospital that isn’t on the ground and I got the chance to check out their new MD-10 aircraft.

Not really knowing what to expect, I first realized I was stepping foot into a legit hospital when I was asked to put on those blue booties to cover your shoes while on the tarmac.  From there it only got more fascinating.

When I first walked in I saw what looked to be normal airplane seats. “This is our classroom,” Dr. Jonathan Lord, Orbis Global Medical Director, told me. “We not only perform operations here, but this is also a teaching hospital where we train local doctors how to safely perform the same procedures.”

What looked like just normal airline seats, actually turned out to be a super high-tech classroom with a 3D TV and cameras so students can watch live operations, ask questions, and get real-life depth perception. “It’s better than some training facilities in the U.S.,” he added.

The operations they perform are ophthalmological in nature, many being pediatric. “Around 80 percent of conditions that cause blindness can be cured,” Lord revealed. “It’s just that many people don’t have access to proper care. We provide that care and train local biomedical staff, doctors, nurses, and more with our facilities on board.”

Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Strolling through the rest of the aircraft I spotted an examination room, administration area, IT/AV room, instrument sterilization area, pre- and post-op care chamber, patient changing rooms, an observation section, and a fully equipped operation room. “We have everything we need to perform about six to eight surgeries a day on the plane,” he noted.

And if the simple fact of having a flying hospital isn’t impressive enough, the logistics of getting it to Third World countries will shock you. Speaking with the Director of Aircraft Operations, his description was akin to that of prepping Air Force One. “It takes a lot of planning to safely get this plane to travel all over the world,” revealed Bruce Johnson. “We’ve had to deal with sudden weather changes, local restrictions, and working in places that don’t have a relationship with the United States. That means we’ll sometimes have to carry all of our own extra parts just in case.”

Courtesy of OMEGA

Luckily, everyone on board is incredibly passionate about this project. While there is a handful of full-time staff, many of the missions are completed with the help of volunteer doctors, nurses, and pilots from around the world. Their dedication is even evident when it comes simply understanding that undergoing eye surgery can be a confusing and scary time for children.

“OMEGA donated teddy bears for every patient and the staff will use them to explain what is about to happen, and gives comfort to the children before and after surgery,” said Lord. “It’s little touches like this that showcase the team’s commitment to this unique undertaking. This plane truly represents a marriage between aviation and medicine.”