Purple is as Purple Does: The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital Stops in Peru
As a FedEx Express employee for the last nine years, I’ve been very proud of our company’s generosity. FedEx donates to schools and educational programs across the world, recently making a substantial donation to Mid South Community College for its aviation maintenance technician training program. FedEx Express has repeatedly deployed aircraft and team members to transport life-saving emergency supplies in the aftermath of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters. Most recently, FedEx Express teamed up with relief organizations and government agencies to move medical materials to Monrovia, Liberia, to help prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus that has already killed thousands of people in West Africa. Our company gives millions of dollars in funds, services, and sponsorships every year to worthy charities who count on support from FedEx such as United Way, March of Dimes and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Like most FedEx employees, we’ve become accustomed to hearing reports on these actions by our employer. But while the stories generate “Purple Pride” in us, we don’t often get to see all the good that comes from our employer’s generosity. We don’t always see how individual lives are changed for the better, sometimes dramatically so. Recently, I was privileged to get an up close and personal look.
My Visit to Peru
In September, I went to Trujillo, Peru to participate in a round table discussion, which was part of a program for Orbis, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that prevents and treats blindness through hands-on training, public health education, improved access to quality eye care, advocacy and partnerships with local health care organizations. FedEx is Orbis International’s first global sponsor and the sole sponsor of “Delivering Sight Worldwide,” a global program that provides direct support for Orbis programs and draws attention to the extent of avoidable blindness in developing nations. FedEx Express is the leading aviation sponsor of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital. On the outside, the Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) is like most other aircraft. Inside, it’s like no other—it hosts an ophthalmic hospital and teaching facility right on board. On board and in local hospitals, the Orbis team and Volunteer Faculty provide hands-on training to convey the latest medical knowledge to help local eye care professionals treat patients and address the leading causes of blindness in their communities.
Left to right: Bruce N. Whitman, President and CEO of Flight Safety International and member of Orbis Board of Directors; D.J. Vaughn, Sr. Comm. Specialist, FedEx Express; Jim Parker, Executive Vice President, FedEx Express; Greg Hall, SVP, FedEx Express; Brian A. Nichols , U.S. Ambassador to Peru; Dr. Ahmed Gomaa, FEH Medical Director; Julio Colomba, VP of Operations for FedEx’s LAC Division; Patricia N. Moller, (In front) U.S. Ambassador to Guinea and member of Orbis Board of Directors; Bob Rachor, SVP, FedEx Express; Jenny Hourihan, Orbis President and CEO.
I was pleased to be there along with others from FedEx Express, including EVP Jim Parker, SVP Bob Rachor, VP LAC Ops Julio Colomba and Sr. Communications Specialist D.J. Vaughn. Also participating was the Orbis President and CEO Jenny Hourihan, Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) Medical Director Ahmed Gomaa, several Orbis board members and the U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Brian A. Nichols. The discussion centered around the work being done with Instituto Regional de Oftalmologia (IRO), a partner of Orbis, on a FedEx-sponsored FEH program to train ophthalmologist practitioners in the La Libertad area in various subspecialties including treating cataracts, glaucoma, medical and surgical retina, corneal diseases, oculoplastics and pediatric strabismus.
Learning About Blindness
After the roundtable, we toured the aircraft and talked to doctors and nurses. I observed surgery being performed inside the aircraft alongside several local medical staff learning how to do the surgery themselves so they can carry on the work after Orbis leaves. During discussions with these dedicated professionals, I learned so much about not only the excellent work that Orbis does, but also about visual impairment in general.
Did you know that 285 million people around the world are visually impaired but that over 80% of visual impairment can be avoided or cured? That’s why we partner with Orbis—to work to eliminate avoidable blindness.
It’s not difficult to imagine what it would be like to not have vision. The impact on your ability to get an education, secure and retain gainful employment and in many cases, simply function and conduct daily activities necessary to basic living, all are greatly reduced—especially if you live in a place with low access to quality eye care.
The good thing about most blindness being avoidable means that there is a solution to this problem. If only that were also true of other serious illnesses afflicting the world today! In my opinion, Orbis is an especially great organization to support because not only does every person at Orbis and all the volunteers want to make a difference, they actually can make a difference. Even the most cynical among us has got to be in favor of supporting an effort that is almost a sure bet to get results. There’s nothing to lose.
In some cases, people are cured of blindness during laser procedures that take fewer than 20 minutes to perform. A life transformed in fewer than 20 minutes!
Orbis reports it has performed over 23 million medical and optical treatments since 1982! But the math is easy — with over 285 million people visually impaired and 39 million blind, there’s much more work to be done.
During my education on Orbis I learned that about three-quarters of Orbis pilots are actually FedEx Express pilots volunteering to fly on their own vacation time. FedEx doesn’t just support Orbis as a corporation; many individual employees support Orbis as caring people. Without exception, every FedEx employee I know who volunteers for Orbis is not only glad to do it, but is actually grateful for the experience. They say they get a lot more out of it than they give. How gratifying is it to take even a small part in helping restore sight to someone or know that you played a role in helping someone see for the very first time? It can’t compare with anything else.
I was always impressed with Orbis, but even more so after my Peru trip. And my eyes have been opened to the huge amount of good in the world that FedEx and its team members help accomplish that affects individual lives in a very personal way. I’ve never been more proud or more Purple.
Photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee.
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