Bulgan sits on the steps of the Flying Eye Hospital in her home country of Mongolia

Paying it Forward: How Orbis Supporters Helped Transform Eye Care in Mongolia

In 1997, at just 10 years old, Bulgan Orgilsaikhan was in a tragic car accident that left her with a sight-threatening injury to her eye. She needed a special kind of tear duct surgery – but at the time, there were no doctors in her home country of Mongolia who knew how to perform the complicated procedure.

Two decades later, it’s a much different story in Mongolia. Not only are there Mongolian doctors who know how to perform more advanced eye surgeries, but one of them – Dr. Bayasgalan Purevdorj – is sharing skills with other doctors around the world.

From limited experience to world-leading expertise. How did such a transformation happen in Mongolia?

Bulgan Orgilsaikhan Sees Her Dreams

For an entire year after her accident, Bulgan’s parents took her to the doctor every other day to get her damaged tear ducts cleared out with a dull needle. That’s all the local doctors could do for her in the late 90s.

Then – thanks to generous supporters – the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital landed in Mongolia, making it possible for Bulgan to receive the life-changing surgery she needed. As always, Orbis welcomed local doctors to observe the operation and participate in trainings led by our expert Volunteer Faculty. They gained the skills they needed to help ensure they could treat other patients like Bulgan.

Not only did this surgery make it possible for Bulgan to excel in school, play with friends, and participate in her community again, it also cleared the way for her to reach her dreams. With her sight repaired, she went on to pursue her passions, which led her to Canada where she graduated from college and became a successful entrepreneur.

Today, Bulgan is determined to pay it forward. She volunteers with Orbis in many ways: on the board of Orbis Canada, as a translator on Orbis’s Mongolian projects, and as an eye health ambassador.

Last year, Bulgan was browsing Cybersight when an upcoming lecture caught her eye. It was about tear duct surgeries and, to her amazement, it was in Mongolian. When she saw the lecturer’s name – Dr. Bayasgalan Purevdorj – she smiled.

Dr. Bayasgalan & the Flying Eye Hospital

Tear duct surgery is very delicate surgery,” said Dr. Bayasgalan. “I saw this surgery during an Orbis Flying Eye Hospital project in 2014.

That project was the plane’s 7th visit to Mongolia – part of Orbis’s long-term strategy to improve access to quality eye care in the country.

Dr. Bayasgalan was there to learn and build his skills. Bulgan was there, too, paying it forward by volunteering as a translator.

Because local doctors in Mongolia had been able to observe Bulgan’s surgery years earlier, Dr. Bayasgalan had access to the resulting network of eye care mentors in his home country. Now, the 2014 Flying Eye Hospital project gave him hands-on training with tear duct surgery.

Dr. Bayasgalan with his mentor, Canadian Volunteer Faculty Dr. Yasser Kahn

Together, these factors helped pave the way for a flourishing career as a respected ophthalmologist. It led to a fellowship through Orbis at the prestigious McMaster University, an ongoing professional mentorship, and a position at the National University of Medical Sciences – the first medical university in Mongolia.

I decided to work there since I have an interest in teaching and doing research in ophthalmology,” Dr. Bayasgalan explained. “Sharing your knowledge with others is a great thing.” Like Bulgan, he is determined to pay it forward.

Gallery: Bulgan on board the Flying Eye Hospital as a translator in Mongolia.

An Incredible Transformation

In October 2020, Dr. Bayasgalan delivered a Cybersight lecture on modern treatment methods for tear duct obstruction. By sharing his expertise through Cybersight, Dr. Bayasgalan is truly paying it forward and helping Orbis change the way the world sees.

When Bulgan noticed this lecture on Cybersight, she was overjoyed to see that it was a Mongolian doctor sharing expertise on tear duct surgery. And she was delighted when she realized that she had met him in person years earlier on board the Flying Eye Hospital.

Bulgan Orgilsaikhan

I’m just super thrilled to know that Cyber­sight con­ducts teach­ings in the Mon­go­lian lan­guage. I think it fills the gap for all those doc­tors who don’t have the resources to learn Eng­lish and can­not go to train­ing abroad. Cyber­sight makes all that exper­tise avail­able at their fingertips.

Recently, Bulgan and Dr. Bayasgalan had an opportunity to reconnect over the internet. Together, they reflected on the incredible transformation in eye care in Mongolia over the last 20 years and how Orbis has played a significant role as a catalyst.

“I think the most important thing that Orbis did for Mongolia is the mentee and mentorship program. It means our ophthalmologists have mentors now. They’re learning from world experts, which is very important. Orbis manages and organizes this important collaboration on Cybersight.” – Dr. Bayasgalan Purevdorj

Dr. Bayasgalan was quick to point out that, while he has been a lecturer on Cybersight, he is also a continuing learner and user of the platform.

If there are complex cases, I still consult with my professors and I go to Cybersight, a platform where we can consult with mentors and experts from all over the world.”

Life-Saving Mentorship in Mongolia

Like the case of a young boy whose eye started bulging out of the socket. He soon lost vision. It was a complex case, and Dr. Bayasgalan turned to Cybersight. He shared the patient’s scans and discussed the case with his mentor, an Orbis Volunteer Faculty member named Dr. Yasser Kahn, via the Cybersight Consult service. Together, they determined that the boy needed a biopsy, which revealed a rare and dangerous eye cancer. With continued consultation, Dr. Bayasgalan started the child on chemotherapy. The tumor shrank, and the boy’s vision soon returned.

The child returned to see Dr. Bayasgalan for a follow-up, traveling into the city from a very rural area in Mongolia. When Dr. Bayasgalan asked him what he wanted to do in the future, he said his dream was to become a pilot.

Will this young boy pay it forward as a pilot on the Flying Eye Hospital someday?” Dr. Bayasgalan wondered. “Who knows? He just might.”

Dr. Bayasgalan Purevdorj asking a question on board the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

It's All Thanks to You

Bulgan, Dr. Bayasgalan, and that little boy – just three of the lives changed for the better because of Orbis supporters. And as they pay it forward, your impact will continue to ripple throughout Mongolia and around the world, for generations to come.

With your support, we can continue bringing high quality trainings and the latest innovations in eye care to local doctors around the world. Together, we can ensure that every child has access to the care they need to pursue their dreams and pay it forward – just like Bulgan.

Pay it forward

Please help more children like Bulgan see their dreams with a gift today.

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