Name: Trisha Prabriputaloong
Famous Last Words: "Imagine closing your eyes for 10 years. Then one day, you open them and see your mother for the very first time."
She grew up in Thailand, went to school in California, and spent time in Uganda, Bulgaria, and Jamaica. But the place Trisha Prabriputaloong now calls home is a DC-10 wide-body aircraft. As an eye doctor for the medical program ORBIS, Prabriputaloong is the best kind of jet-setter, healing people's vision as she travels the world.
Q: WHY EYES?
A: I was raised by a mother obsessed with eye care. In addition to working in the ophthalmology department at a university hospital, she also runs a private practice. When I was maybe 5 years old, I remember going to work with her every day and just watching. She was so interested in her patients, regardless of their condition. I realized then that I wanted to be like her.
Q: TELL US ABOUT THE ORBIS MOMENT.
A: It was 1992—I was in med school when the Flying Eye Hospital visited my hometown, and my mother introduced me to the crew. I was fascinated by the idea of a mobile medical center. Plus, Thailand is a fairly quiet country. The thought of traveling the world had huge appeal. Actually, I was a bit naïve about the places I would visit.
Q: WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU DO?
A: As a cornea specialist, I perform laser surgeries, give demonstrations, and train the local medical staff. They, in turn, share what they've learned with colleagues. It's part of a cycle to end blindness in the developing world.
Q: IT MUST BE AMAZING TO WATCH PATIENTS REGAIN THEIR SIGHT.
A: Last week in Uganda, I met Victoria, a 14-year-old girl who could barely count my fingers. On Thursday, we performed a corneal transplant, and I examined her the next day. The new tissue takes time to settle—seeing better in one day usually doesn't happen. But Victoria surprised me by reading almost all the letters on the eye chart. Her mother broke down in tears. She told me that, from now on, her daughter would go to school. Victoria kept grabbing papers off my desk and soaking them in. I was speechless.
Q: DOES THE JOB WREAK HAVOC ON YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
A: Given my schedule, dating is difficult. But I do meet interesting people on my travels, and the wonders of modern technology—e-mail and text messaging—help me keep friendships even after I've moved on to a new place. Because I travel so much, the 22 crew members from a dozen countries aboard the hospital plane are like my family. And like any big family, we have our good days and sometimes a few challenging ones to overcome. Let's just say, it's never boring onboard.
Around the world, 37 million people are blind, but a huge number of them—28 million—could have their sight restored with proper medical attention. ORBIS, a nonprofit organization, aims to reach as many of these people as possible through their Flying Eye Hospital. To learn more, go to www.orbis.org.