August 10, 2004.
By Laura Davidson,
The Daily Record (Scotland).
NURSE Pauline Dabydeen could have chosen to enjoy a quiet retirement at home in Scotland. Instead, she's flying all over the world, helping to save the sight of thousands in the Third World.
Over the next 12 months, she'll visit five countries in a specially-converted plane, the Flying Eye Hospital, with charity Orbis.
As well as saving someone's sight with each operation in which she assists, she'll be passing on her skills to local doctors and nurses who, in turn, will use their new knowledge to save millions from a world of darkness.
Pauline has dreamed of making the trip for years.
She said: 'In Scotland, we take it for granted that medical training is good and patients will receive a high standard of care.
'In many Third World and developing countries, however, they don't have access to the training and facilities that we have, so even simple procedures are impossible.
'Every year, millions of people go blind needlessly. In many cases, a simple hour-long procedure could save their sight, but the resources just aren't there to carry out the surgery. It's so sad that people are going blind just because they live in a poor country.
'Volunteering on a programme like this is something I'd thought about for a long time and, when I retired last year, I decided I wasn't ready to hang up my gowns just yet.
'I have all this experience, so why not share it? As long as I can keep helping others, I'll keep going where I'm needed.'
The aircraft Pauline will travel in is unlike any other. Instead of a first-class cabin, there's a classroom, and in place of economy seating, there's a surgical theatre. The DC10 is a fully-operational teaching hospital.
Hundreds of operations to treat glaucoma, cataracts and other eye conditions will be carried out in the plane over the coming year as Pauline and her fellow medics visit Paraguay, China, Malaysia, Burma and Vietnam.
Pauline, 61, who retired as an ophthalmic theatre sister from Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow last year, experienced the developing countries' problems first-hand when she went on her first Orbis mission to Manzanillo and Havana in Cuba in March.
The country, which is still subject to a trade embargo, has little access to medical supplies and training.
As a result, around 100,000 Cubans go blind every year.
The World Health Organisation reckons 30,000 cataract operations are needed each year to ease the problem but, in 2002, only 13,000 were carried out because of lack of resources and skills.
Pauline treated dozens of patients on her four-week trip, but it was a five-year-old girl who made a lasting impression on the big-hearted nurse.
She said: 'She came in with her mother on our last day when we were just finishing up. She had heard about what we were doing and had come in desperation to see if we could do anything for her little girl.
'She was suffering from glaucoma and it was pretty advanced. She would definitely go blind.'
SHE continued: 'There was no way we could let this little girl lose her sight, so we scrubbed up again and inserted a valve into her eye which cured the problem.
'It only took an hour, but it meant that she would be able to see instead of being plunged into darkness forthe rest of her life. Afterwards, her mother held my hand and started crying. She was so grateful for what we'd done. It's really hard when that happens. It really makes me fill up.
'I'll never forget what it's like to see a patient look up at you, with tears rolling down their cheeks, thanking you for helping them.
'It makes you feel very humble, and appreciative of the resources we take for granted back home.'
In the UK, blind children are given the same opportunities as their sighted peers, but in the Third World, blindness usually means a life of despair.
Children without sight receive poorer education, making it difficult for them to find jobs and support themselves. Few marry, feeling they're a burden on their families for the rest of their lives. In India, six out of 10 blind children do not reach adulthood.
Almost 45 million people worldwide are blind, but eight out of 10 cases could have been avoided.
Since Orbis was founded 22 years ago, volunteers like Pauline have trained more than 63,000 medical professionals. They have shared their new skills with others to give 17.5 million people back their sight.
Pauline, of Blanefield, Stirlingshire, said: 'The only way to combat the problem is to educate medical staff in these countries to do the best with the equipment they have.
'On board the Flying Eye, we have our own lecture theatre with a cinema screen where doctors can watch the operations being carried out next door in theatre.
'If they have questions, they can ask the surgeon direct while he's operating, through an audio link. It's fantastic.'
Pauline also gives seminars for nurses in the countries she visits. But in addition to coping with her medical duties, she'll need to deal with extreme poverty during her travels. In crime-scourged Paraguay, money-laundering and arms trafficking are among the country's biggest problems.
In Burma, drug barons have control of many areas where the opium trade is big business.
PAULINE, who's originally from Malaysia but has lived in Scotland since 1979, said: 'In the areas we visit, the people really have nothing.
'In Cuba, for example, there's simply nothing in the shops for them to buy. Although they try to do the best with what they have, their standard of life is very poor compared to ours and their access to medicines is very limited.
'We saw many people with glaucoma and a lot of young people are going blind because of it.
'It's a shame because the local doctors are very skilled, but just don't have the opportunity to leave their country to learn new techniques.'
Pauline's husband, retired lecturer Stephen, and the rest of her family, are proud of her mission. Her grown-up daughters reckon she's an inspiration and two of them, Lyvia and Sonia, followed her into the medical profession, becoming doctors. Pauline's third daughter, Cassandra, is a teacher.
Pauline said: 'I couldn't have done this without the support of my family.
'It's a big thing to say that you're just taking off for a year, but they understand that this is something I've wanted to do for so long.
'I just never had the time when I was working full-time.
'Students often take a gap year from university and this is my gap year. I often say to people that life begins after retirement and, for me, it really has.'
# To make a donation to Orbis, visit www.ukorbis.org or call 020 7608 7260.
Copyright The Daily Record 2004.
Source URL: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/.
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