How often are we given a second chance in life? For the estimated 170 million blind and visually impaired people around the world, there is little hope of regaining a functional, effective use of their eyes. The majority of blind people live in developing countries, where there is usually a shortage of high-quality medical assistance. Right now, 80 percent of those who are blind do not need to be. Millions can be cured with techniques routinely practiced in many countries.
One of the few solutions has been the work of ORBIS. Founded by Dr. David Paton in the mid 1970s, the ORBIS organization has been using a fully equipped DC-10 airplane thatís been converted into a mobile teaching eye hospital. With this unique arena for teaching, some of the world's leading eye doctors and experts in the latest medical techniques are teaching doctors in developing countries their surgical knowledge and skills through hands-on training and lectures.
ORBIS has circled the globe several times, carrying out nearly 350 sight-saving training programs in 79 countries. Distinguished volunteer ophthalmologists from an international network of eye surgeons have demonstrated surgical and laser procedures to nearly 40,000 doctors and nurses worldwide. Although the ORBIS plane is a teaching facility and not a hospital or clinic, its staff and volunteer doctors have successfully restored sight to more than 21,000 patients.
Julia Ibargolly Leon lost her vision when she was two years old. She developed a condition called uveitis, which inflames the eye, but can usually be treated with eyedrops. Her condition got worse, and she found daylight so painful that she would play at night and sleep during the day. The scar tissue from the infection eventually formed into cataracts and blocked her vision.
When the Orbis DC-10 arrives in Ciego de Avila, Cuba, the volunteer ophthalmologists and doctors are swarmed with anxious patients, including Julia and her mother Nancy. After being examined by the Orbis staff, Julia is eventually approved to become a patient. The resulting photo essay tells of her remarkable experience, being transformed from being blind to having her vision partially restored.
For Paul Lowe, an award-winning photojournalist with the Magnum photo agency, this story was a pure joy to cover, and a welcome change from the intense wartime coverage of Rawanda, Chechnya and Bosnia.
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