From the archive: The husband and wife who traveled the world to save sight

February 2020

This Valentine's Day, we're championing the work of the Kulvichit family. This husband and wife duo met whilst working on board Orbis’s Flying Eye Hospital. They went on to spend 16 months with Orbis travelling throughout Asia and Eastern Europe, saving sight and forging lasting relationships with the Orbis crew and local eye health professionals.

In 2017, following a reunion with their fellow Orbis crew and 24 years on from their time on board the Flying Eye Hospital, Dr Kittisak Kulvichit decided to run the 2017 London Marathon for Orbis. At the time, he wrote a blog for The British Medical Journal about his, and his wife's, experiences working with Orbis, and how it helped to shape his life and career.

“Orbis was the platform from which I progressed”

This blog was originally published on http://blogs.bmj.com/ in January 2017.

The year was 1992 and the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital had landed at Chiang Mai International Airport in the north of Thailand. Its mission: to provide training and mentorship to ophthalmologists and eye care professionals in my country.

At the time I was a young doctor and a third year resident in ophthalmology at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital in Bangkok, and this was an opportunity not to be missed. I duly travelled to Chiang Mai to attend the Orbis programme.

The Flying Eye Hospital, the original converted DC8, rested on the tarmac in the tropical heat, an agent of change, an icon of hope, and—I came to realise as the programme unfolded—a soundly practical and effective solution to improving the future of those affected by eye disease.

The aircraft had brought a core team of nurses, doctors, and biomedical engineers, plus visiting specialists from the UK, the US, and Canada. Together they delivered a month long programme of structured, hands-on teaching.

Dr Kittisak Kulvichit delivered training on the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital in 1992-1993

Outreach programmes in eye care were not new to me. During my residency training I regularly volunteered with the Thai Red Cross, and every month I would work at a refugee camp on the Thailand and Cambodia border, providing a service to hundreds of patients who were unable to access eye care easily. No one could dispute the need or value of these types of programmes.

Orbis, however, had a different approach. Their programme provided an opportunity to learn, to improve practical skills and use of equipment, and to connect with a worldwide community of ophthalmologists. These were long term, lasting benefits and I wanted to be a part of the programme that imparted them.

I joined Orbis as a fellow ophthalmologist later that year on the island of Cebu in the Philippines on the exact same day my future wife (although I didn’t know that at the time) joined the Orbis crew as a nurse. We travelled with the DC8 for a further 16 months throughout Asia and Eastern Europe.

The 1992-1993 Orbis Flying Eye Hospital crew

The experience was truly invaluable. I was able to expand my knowledge and horizons, and form lasting friendships and meaningful connections with professionals at eye institutions across the Globe. Orbis was the platform from which I progressed to train further in vitreoretinal fellowship programmes in both the US and Canada.

Professional development is absolutely key to providing quality care and for continuing development of in-country medical training and research programmes. Some four years later, in 1996, I returned to Thailand, where I continue to practise as a vitreoretinal surgeon and teach the next generation of ophthalmologists.

Last year my wife and I went to a reunion of some of the Orbis Crew from those 1992 days. Yes, those connections really do last.

The intervening 24 years have brought much change, and Orbis as an organisation continues to improve, to adapt to new challenges, and expand its reach to those in need. As we reflected on the impact our time with Orbis has had on both our professional and personal lives, I decided I wanted to give something back.

This year I will be running in the 2017 London Marathon to raise money for Orbis. This is a charity that has a far reaching impact on the lives of those affected by preventable blindness and its work is only made possible by donations from generous supporters.

Dr Kittisak Kulvichit after completing a recent race

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