Sky's the limit

Friday, 17 June 2011

ACU graduate Heather Machin never knows what her day will bring. The 31-year-old is Director of Nursing for the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital (FEH), which brings together dedicated eye care professionals and aviators to give the gift of sight to developing countries around the world.

Onboard the refurbished DC-10 jet aircraft, local doctors, nurses and biomedical technicians from impoverished nations work alongside ORBIS internationals medical team to exchange knowledge and improve their skills.

“It’s an incredibly diverse role and on any given day I can be working on accreditation and policy development, doing my nursing duties, serving as a flight attendant, helping with fundraising campaigns or even loading cargo,” Heather said.

“The cases we see are often very severe and advanced eye conditions, but because of the huge amount of travel, sometimes the biggest challenge for me is simply remembering what day and time it is.”

In the 48-seat classroom at the front of the plane, doctors give lectures, discussions and live broadcasts of surgical procedures being performed in the Flying Eye Hospital operating room.

The local trainees can observe the surgeries and ask questions of the operating surgeons via a two-way audio-visual system.

As the only Australian on board and a graduate from ACU’s Bachelor of Nursing in Brisbane, Heather is away from home for around 45 weeks of the year.

“I absolutely love my job, and it’s really shown me what I’m capable of,” she said. “Despite the thousands of different people we see every year, with 50 per cent of those being children, there are always those especially inspiring patients that stand out.

“One is Esther, a five-year old, severely cross-eyed orphan from a village in Uganda. Her resilience was amazing; she was always smiling, always dancing, and just the life of the party.

Heather Machin and EstherHeather Machin and five-year-old Esther from Uganda


“The eagerness of the local medical staff to learn is also amazing, they want so badly to gain the skills to help their people.”

In the 19 months since she got the job, Heather has been to India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Dubai, Oman, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and more both on program and during planning times.

“I particularly love returning to places I have worked before and seeing how the skills we helped them develop have made such a big difference to their practice,” she said.

“There are people who I have worked with from all corners of the globe who I am now proud to call my friends.”

Since its first program in 1982, the hospital has trained 960 ophthalmologists, performed over 300 patient surgical cases on board, travelled to more than 70 countries and saved the sight of millions of people.