An old photo showing many original founding members of Orbis, sitting in a boardroom round a table

Our History

Go back to the very beginning of the Orbis story...

Turning an Idea Into Reality

Dr. David Paton, Director of Texas’s Baylor College of Medicine, recognizing the lack of eye care and ophthalmic teaching in low- and middle-income countries where blindness was widespread, is inspired to close this gap. He subsequently dreams up the idea of a mobile teaching and operating facility. He and supporters – including Betsy Trippe Devecchi, Niles Bond, George Gould, Thomas Knight, Charles Lord, J. Wright Rumbaugh, and A.L. Ueltschi – begin working to make this idea a reality, becoming a collective league of Orbis founders.​

Several of the founders came from Greenwich, CT, a town with a deep connection to the Orbis founding story.

Dr. David Paton first thought of the idea of project Orbis

1973 - Project Orbis Launches

A Project Orbis ophthalmologist wanted poster.

Orbis is officially incorporated as a nonprofit, with a mission to deliver training to eye care professionals around the world. In Latin, Orbis means "of the eye," and in Greek, it means "around the world."

1982 - Flying Eye Hospital Takes Off

The first-generation Flying Eye Hospital, a DC-8 jet donated by United Airlines, is christened in Houston, Texas, at the Ellington Air Force base after a two-year process of transforming it from a plane to a mobile teaching hospital. One of the Orbis founders, A.L. Ueltschi, played a key role in building the relationship with United Airlines that led to securing the plane.

The christening of the very first Flying Eye Hospital in 1982

Country Programs Emerge

As we grew over the years, we added hospital-based training programs and fellowships to our portfolio to provide additional skills-building opportunities for eye care professionals. In 1999, to build the capacity of local partners, we created long-term country programs in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam – similar programs are also underway in parts of the Latin America and the Caribbean. Our permanent offices in these countries, run by local staff, develop and implement an array of multi-year projects to improve the quality and accessibility of eye care to residents, particularly in rural areas and under resourced urban communities. Many of these programs focus on the treatment and prevention of childhood blindness, cataract, trachoma and corneal disease.

Cybersight: Online Training and Consultations

Orbis’s award winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight, is the brainchild of Dr. Eugene Helveston who first had the idea whilst visiting Cuba in the late 1990s. He realized that although it was helpful to train and teach eye teams on board the Flying Eye Hospital, without continuity and follow-up training, lasting improvement in the skill set of local ophthalmologists was hard to achieve.

On a return trip to Cuba Dr. Helveston brought his computer and video equipment, allowing Cuban doctors to send follow-up photographs of cases to mentors in the U.S to help diagnose and treat patients. This electronic relationship would be the start of Cybersight. Dr. Helveston saw immediately the benefit of establishing these long-term and long-distance partnerships and began expanding the program.

An introduction to Cybersight

Thanks to Dr. Helveston's vision and persistence and generous support from a number of donors, Cybersight officially launched in June 2003. Today Cybersight provides long-distance mentoring and education, online courses and lectures, symposiums, AI screening, and case follow-up to eye teams in more than 200 countries and territories. Our expert volunteers and staff provide on-demand advice for complex cases, mentoring local eye care professionals on diagnosis and treatment.

Cybersight continues to break records as telemedicine and remote learning becomes an even bigger part of Orbis's strategy, and broader societal behavior. As many sectors and industries begin to shift towards online learning, we have amassed more than 20 years of experience and content—in large part thanks to Dr. Helveston's vision.

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