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The consultation: eyes in the sky

Consultant and volunteer for flying eye hospital Orbis
HIGH FLYER: Dr Courtman (centre) at work aboard the Flying Eye Hospital

Plymouth consultant paediatric anaesthetist Simon Courtman is a volunteer for Orbis, which operates the Flying Eye Hospital – an operating theatre and teaching facility inside a converted cargo aircraft. He has volunteered in a number of countries including Indonesia, Mongolia and Peru

Children without vision can quickly become a burden to their families. They may not be able to work and contribute to their families financially. In some countries this results in lives begging on the streets.

There is a look that the parents give you after the operation. It requires no interpreter or translation. One parent to another. You know what it means, and you feel great pride in the whole team.

It’s transformational for the whole family. Suddenly, a child, who may have been destined to become a financial burden, becomes a vital part of the family business. In Indonesia, watching the joy in a young boy when he realised he could now continue as a butterfly catcher with his father, was one of those moments.

For me, there’s something even more inspiring and that’s the emphasis that Orbis places on education and empowering local clinical teams to work towards restoring sight. The largest element of the operating sessions is training the local surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre teams.

I’ve seen Sellotape and garden hose put to good use in theatre. The local medical and nursing teams, without exception, are all committed to delivering the best service they can with the resources that are available to them. In Vietnam, the local anaesthetist had converted nasal prongs into an advanced anaesthetic circuit with some help from Sellotape. I’ve also seen garden hose attached to anaesthetic machines to remove waste gases, and phone torches used to supplement theatre lighting.

With a good team you can succeed no matter what obstacles appear. The leadership and team ethic of the Orbis staff is remarkable. I was lucky enough to work beside [the charity’s former president] Oliver Foot. He knew all the doctors and nurses. But he also knew every member of the hotel reception staff, the airport security team and all the drivers for transporting us around. I’m not saying I will ever be as good as he was but that lesson has always stayed with me.

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Listen to Dr Courtman talk about his role, below:

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