Bascom Palmer Ophthalmologist Richard K. Lee Helps Fight Blindness at 30,000 Feet

Richard K. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, was among 40 healthcare providers and specialists who brought much-needed eye care to patients in Panama aboard the world’s only airborne ophthalmic training and treatment hospital.

Dedicated to saving sight in underdeveloped countries, the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, a converted DC-10 aircraft equipped with operating, recovery, audiovisual and laser treatment rooms, includes a 48-seat classroom where healthcare professionals gather for lectures, discussions and live broadcasts of surgical procedures by visiting faculty. Lee, who is committed to furthering Bascom Palmer’s long history of providing national and international humanitarian service, was invited to be a visiting faculty member in September.

Thomas E. Johnson, M.D., professor of clinical ophthalmology who specializes in oculofacial plastic surgery, also was invited recently as visiting faculty on ORBIS missions to Mongolia and Ethiopia, and Noreen Smith, R.N., served on an ORBIS mission in Jamaica.

Lee, who specializes in glaucoma and cataracts, trained Panamanian eye surgeons and performed sight-saving glaucoma and cataract surgeries during the first week of a month-long rotation with international ophthalmologists from various specialties. He and other visiting faculty also performed surgeries at local government hospitals, where they presented lectures and trained ophthalmologists, anesthesiologists, ophthalmic technicians, operating room nurses, and other ancillary ophthalmic clinical staff.

The goal was not only to perform service but to train local eye professionals and leave an indelible footprint through education.

Lee took the Bascom Palmer Vision Van to Japan after the nation’s devastating 2011 tsunami and earthquake and served in Haiti after its massive 2010 earthquake. “The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital is an impressive modern, full-service facility that brings to underserved areas of the world a level of mobile care, education, and service that has no peer,” he said.

Completely self-contained, the Flying Eye Hospital has a dedicated flight crew, and audiovisual, medical and surgical staff, as well as airplane technicians who are also trained to repair broken ophthalmic equipment in host country hospitals.

In addition to his humanitarian work on the plane, Lee was an invited plenary session speaker for the Panamanian Ophthalmology Society’s annual national meeting, where he discussed advances in ophthalmology.

A nonprofit organization, ORBIS International was founded in 1982 to prevent and treat blindness through hands-on training, public health education, improved access to quality eye care, advocacy and partnerships with local healthcare organizations.

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